India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the censor board, has censored Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam-language film “Sexy Durga.” The film will now be called “S Durga” for Indian release and will have its Indian premiere under that title at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival.
Durga is the name of a Hindu goddess and also a popular female name in India. Though the CBFC did not state reasons for the abbreviation of the title, it is clear that it is an appeasement of perceived hurt of religious sentiments. Right-wing Hindu fanatics have trolled Sasidharan and lead actress Rajshri Deshpande, who plays the titular Durga, on social media.
The CBFC has also ordered the muting of 21 swear words from the film, but there are no visual cuts.
Set over one night, the film follows a young couple on the run in Kerala as they are harassed by a cross-section of society, and is a comment on the poor situation of women’s safety in India. It premiered at Rotterdam earlier this year where it won the festival’s top prize, the Hivos Tiger award, and has had considerable global festival play since.
Sasidharan said, “I had two options, either to move to an appeal and then to a court of law or to change the name of the movie. I was getting threats to change the name of the movie from the very beginning since I announced the title. I resisted and the movie is now established beyond my name. The suggestion of changing the name of the well-established movie is a mockery.”
Rather than fight a long legal battle, Sasidharan, a lawyer by qualification, decided to change the title. “Now the film can be screened and people will readily connect that the film is ‘Sexy Durga’ and three letters are slashed,” says Sasidharan.
Sasidharan and his producer Shaji Mathew of Niv Art Movies, the backers of “Sexy Durga,” are at Busan’s Asian Project Market with their next film, “Unmadiyude Maranam” (“Death of Insane”). Given the subject matter, the team’s current censorship travails are ironic.
“ ‘Unmadiyude Maranam’ is all about the social censoring and moral policing happening in my society,” said Sasidharan. “It discusses the attempt of the society to censor imaginations [and] dreams. It has a docu-fiction structure. Eighty percent of the film is shot. [I am] looking for funds to finish it. I think ‘Unmadiyude Maranam’ will demand a fight in court to get a censor certificate, because of the content and construction.”
“Sexy Durga” is just the latest example of a long-standing issue Indian filmmakers have had with the CBFC. In August 2017, Pahlaj Nihalani, the notoriously scissor-happy head of the organization, was replaced before completing his term with the well-regarded screenwriter and lyricist Prasoon Joshi. An early decision on Joshi’s watch was 45 cuts for Los Angeles-based filmmaker Tabrez Noorani’s “Love Sonia,” featuring Demi Moore, Freida Pinto and Mark Duplass.