India's decision to block a film about former Premier Indira Gandhi's assassination has sparked a controversy in the country. Experts debate whether a politically sensitive subject should be an excuse to ban a movie.
"Kaum De Heere" (Diamonds of the Community) was scheduled to be released in movie theaters across northern India on Friday, August 22. However, according to the Indian government's film certification board, the Punjabi-language movie was banned as it "exalts" the former Indian Premier Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards, who assassinated her to allegedly avenge an army assault on the Golden Temple - Sikhism's holiest shrine.
India's Home Ministry had earlier raised concerns about the film and asked the board to review it. "We saw the film and decided it could not be released due to fears that it would lead to disruption of public order," Leela Samson, the head of the certification board, told Indian media. "The film is double trouble. It extols Gandhi's murderers who took the law into their own hands and it glorifies the hanging of the two men," Samson added.
Pardeep Bansal, the producer of the film, and director Ravinder Ravi, however, do not agree with Samson's statement. Bansal said there was nothing controversial about the film as it was based on historic events. The filmmakers said they would seek a review of the film board's decision.
"It is a balanced film. Some people are unnecessarily trying to create a controversy," Bansal told the reporters.
The film is reportedly based on the lives of three men belonging to the Sikh faith, including two bodyguards of Gandhi. The movie is set against the backdrop of an insurgency in the northern state of the Punjab through the late 1970s and early 1980s when many Sikhs demanded a separate homeland.
In June, 1984, then Prime Minister Gandhi ordered a military operation to flush out hundreds of armed Sikh separatists barricaded inside the Golden Temple. The attack outraged Sikhs and led to communal disharmony. Later that year, Gandhi was murdered and the South Asian nation was swept by a wave of anti-Sikh rioting which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Sikhs.
Indian film critic Shubra Gupta says movies based on political subjects generally create controversies. "It is no wonder that 'Kaum De Heere,' which deals with a sensitive topic, made a furor in the country," Gupta told DW.
"The government did a wise thing to block the movie," Manoj Mitta, author of the book "When a tree shook Delhi" about the 1984 carnage and its aftermath, told DW. "There are sensitivities associated with the issue. It is an attempt to lionize Gandhi's assassins. It is understandable that a section of society is upset about it," he added.
It is not the first time that a Bollywood film has touched upon Gandhi's life. In 1975, renowned Indian filmmaker Gulzar made a political drama allegedly based on Indira Gandhi's relationship with her former husband. Gandhi's government did not allow the movie's release. Only after Gandhi's Congress party's defeat in the 1977 general elections, did the ruling Janata Party unban it.
Film critic Namrata Joshi believes political sensitivity should not be used as an excuse for censorship. "This has been happening very frequently in India; people taking offense and calling for bans of movies, books. It amazes me how easily we get offended. You may never know who and what will provoke who. Very small issues can be upsetting for a lot of people here," Joshi told DW.
The critic said movies should not be banned at all: "Films should be rated by the certification board, not blocked."
But Mitta disagrees. "I am not saying that freedom of speech should be curtailed, but violence should be discouraged. Having said that, I think it is a complex issue," he argued.