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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 17:34 GMT
Film festival war erupts in Bombay

By Jayshree Bajoria
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Protest at the Mumbai International Film Festival
Film-makers were angry with the government selectors
Angry Indian documentary-makers have set up a rival film festival after accusing a government-sponsored event of rejecting controversial films.

Their alternative festival began this week alongside the official version in Bombay, also known as Mumbai.

A total of 13 films that were originally selected for the eighth Mumbai International Film Festival (Miff) have been withdrawn by their directors.

They are now being shown in the breakaway event, aptly christened Vikalp (Alternative), which is drawing in the crowds.

Film-makers say about 44 documentaries were rejected by the government festival jury because they dealt with "touchy" subjects.

A film festival is not a space for propaganda
Surabhi Sharma, film-maker

The spat began last month when noted Indian playwright and actor Girish Karnad, a jury member of the government festival, walked out in protest at the selection of films.

Film-maker Pankaj Rishi Kumar, whose film The Vote, which is on the subject of Indian elections, was rejected by the government festival, says the selections were politically motivated.

"When we went through the list of films [at the government festival], we realised that all Indian films that had anything to do with politics - the Gujarat riots, environmental issues questioning the government and sexuality - had been left out," he told BBC News Online.

Allegations denied

Irate over the dropping of films like The Vote, a group of film-makers waved protest banners, wore black bands outside the official festival auditoriums and floated their own alternative festival.

Film still of The Vote
The Vote - one of the films rejected by the selectors

Film-maker Surabhi Sharma, who withdrew her film The Turtle People from the official festival, also says that critical films were dropped.

"Films criticising developments in India were kept out. So we can't be part of a festival that is trying to only show the positive side of India," Ms Sharma said.

"A film festival is not a space for propaganda. It is a place for film-makers to share their ideas and concerns."

Organisers of the government festival deny charges of censorship.

''There was no influence exerted, no back-door censorship, no political pressure on us whatsoever to either select or reject a film,'' festival director Raghu Krishna told the BBC.

Transparency urged

Most movie-watchers and film students say they find the fare at the alternative festival livelier.

Vaani Arora, a film student, said she liked the debates held between the film-makers and their audiences after the screening of films at the alternative festival.

Pankaj Rishi Kumar
Film-maker Pankaj Rishi Kumar says the festival is now a fixture

"It all adds to the energy levels of a festival," she said.

International viewers and film-makers are also thronging to the alternative event.

"I find the films at this festival more interesting. Some films I saw at the official festival were kind of moralistic. The films here have more depth," said Marianne Leroux, a France-based editor.

Dan, a documentary film-maker from the United States, said he had watched documentaries at the official festival which dealt with "painful things happening in the world".

"But I guess it is OK to show films about the suffering of Tibetan or African children. It is more sensitive to show things happening in India."

Film-makers like Umesh Kulkarni feel the only way to avoid such controversy is to have a "transparent process of selection".

"There will always be some voices of dissent at any documentary festival," he said.

Meanwhile the breakaway film-makers are determined to make their alternative a permanent feature of the Indian festival scene.

''We have received invitations from other cities and non-governmental organisations to show our films there,'' said Ms Sharma.

Pankaj Rishi Kumar also said the alternative festival would live on.

''Now the film-making community has understood there is strength in unity. Vikalp will not only continue in Mumbai but will also travel around India."

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