Ten filmmakers including Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan returned their National Awards on Wednesday to protest the FTII row and ‘growing intolerance’ in the country, also referring to murders of rationalists MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi.
Those who returned the awards are Patwardhan, Banerjee, Paresh Kamdar, Nishtha Jain, Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Hari Nair, Rakesh Sharma, Indraneel Lahiri and Lipika Singh Darai.
The development came hours after three prominent alumni of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, announced that they would return their National Awards to protest “an atmosphere of intolerance” in the country in last few months. They are Vikrant Pawar of Maharashtra, Rakesh Shukla of Uttar Pradesh and Prateek Vats of Goa.
The FTII students who went on strike on June 12 against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as its chairman returned to their classes on Wednesday but said protests against the BJP member will go on.
“As filmmakers, we stand firmly with the students of FTII and are determined to not let them shoulder the entire burden of their protests. They have mounted a historic struggle and we urge others within our fraternity to come forward and carry this protest forward,” the 10 filmmakers said in a memorandum signed by them.
In a signed statement released in a press conference in the evening, they urged the central government to “urgently reveal its commitment” to protect the freedom of expression of each citizen.
“I never thought I would ever return my award… If the FTII’s ethos are protected and strengthened, not only shall I consider taking back my award, but will hand out 10 other awards with joy,” Banerjee said.
Saying that the decision was not politically motivated, he said, it was “motivated by my conscience… I am returning it to try and raise public attention.”
“We are disenchanted with what is happening in our country,” Patwardhan told a news conference. The artistes cited ‘threat to diversity and freedom of expression’ as the reason for giving up their awards.
“Murders of rationalists are not random acts of violence. People are being murdered for their beliefs and opinions… If we don’t protest now, we’re in danger of being part of flattening diversity,” they said.
Screenwriter, producer and filmmaker Banerjee’s latest film Titli is scheduled to be released this Friday. He has made films such as Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! Both the movies have won National Awards.
Documentary filmmaker Patwardhan has had frequent run-ins with the Censor Board in the past. His noted films include Bombay: Our City (Hamara Shahar) in 1985, In Memory of Friends (1990), War and Peace in 2002 (adjudged the best non-fiction film, National Awards 2004) and Jai Bhim Comrade in 2011 (given the special jury prize in the National Film Awards, 2012).
Wednesday’s show of protest comes amid weeks of similar demonstrations by award-winning writers. Among them are India’s top literary body Sahitya Akademi and winners of its awards.
At least 35 writers have given up their awards since the brutal killing of Mohammad Ikhlaq in Uttar Pradesh over beef consumption rumours.
Noted author Nayantara Sahgal was among the first to return her award on concerns over a “dangerous distortion of Hinduism”. After her, a string of writers including Ashok Vajpeyi turned in their honours to express their anger over the Akademi’s silence on rising attacks on free speech in the country.
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