After it was pulled at the last minute from Berlinale 2021, Chhatrapal Ninawe’s debut feature “Ghaath” (“Ambush”) will finally show at the festival in 2023.
The Marathi-language film, a slow-burn thriller set on the fringes of India’s jungles occupied by Maoist rebels and revolves around the tense interplay between guerrillas, civilians and the police, will have its world premiere at the Berlinale’s Panorama strand.
The project, then co-produced by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios and independent producer Manish Mundra’s Drishyam Films, was selected for the work-in-progress lab at India’s Film Bazaar 2020 where it won the Lab Award.
“Ghaath” was selected as one of the Panorama titles in 2021, but was then pulled. In a social media post, which has since been deleted, Ninawe wrote:
“On Feb 4, 2021, Jio Studios sent a legal restraining order to Berlinale, effectively asking them to drop the film from the selection. We sent frantic emails. No explanations were given. Drishyam Films even offered to buy back the film completely. Jio Studios instead sent a legal notice and banned them from applying to any other film festivals. A Berlin curator told me that such a thing has not happened in her career spanning 28 years.”
“Jio Studios did not even apply for Censor Board for Film Certification (CBFC) certification. So basically after 25 months of funding the film work, few corporate executives decided to ban the film themselves, just when it was invited to Berlinale and won the NFDC’s WIP lab award. It is almost #Kafkaesque. I am sure that ‘Ghaath’ will easily clear CBFC certification. Because the film is foremost a personal story, rather than an ideological film. The film 1) Do not have an anti-India message 2) is definitely not a pro-Maoist film 3) does not promote hate 4)does not abuse or target any caste, tribe, and community. 5) does not disturb communal harmony.”
“After this fiasco, I have waited for a resolution for almost another 15 months now. I have tried to communicate with them through various channels. It was the darkest part of my life. My dreams were shattered and could not even afford therapy. When ‘Ghaath’ should have been celebrated by the Indian and Marathi film industry, it was being murdered right in front of eyes. How can I keep sanity when my baby is being murdered? Whatever happened with ‘Ghaath’ is blatant discrimination. And I have decided to fight against this. I demand Jio studios to release ‘Ghaath.’”
The only comment offered by Jio Studios at the time was: “Jio Studios is committed to responsible storytelling and is working with more than 50 filmmakers across 120+ multilingual stories as we speak. It is our endeavour to extend the best possible support to our partners and filmmakers to achieve the highest critical and commercial success that every story deserves. We have an ongoing legal dispute with producer Drishyam Films on a multi film deal due to which we will abstain from making any specific media clarifications. However, we want to expressly clarify that we have no dispute with any director. We deny all baseless allegations against us.”
Variety has reached out to Jio for any further comment on the matter but had not heard back at the time of going to press.
Shiladitya Bora’s Platoon One Films has acquired Jio’s share of the “Ghaath” rights, Variety understands.
“Ghaath” is now produced by Platoon One’s Bora and Drishyam’s Mundra, along with Milapsinh Jadeja and Sanyukta Gupta, and stars Milind Shinde and Jitendra Joshi, as well as Suruchi Adarkar, Dhananjay Mandaokar and Janardan Kadam.
Ninawe told Variety: “It was a long, hard and adventurous journey, but I’m so honored to finally be premiering our film at the Berlinale, home to so many artists that have inspired us along the way. ‘Ghaath’ is a film about trust, betrayal and ambush. It is a thriller which goes deep into the jungles and deeper into the psyche of its characters. I’m grateful to Platoon One Films and Drishyam Films for having faith in our film, and I hope it finds its audience in Berlin, India and beyond.”
Mundra and Bora previously collaborated on “Newton,” which had its world premiere at the Berlinale in 2017 and later went on to become India’s official entry to the Oscars. Both Ninawe and Bora are alumni of the Berlinale Talents program. “Ghaath” cinematographer Udit Khurana has been selected for this year’s program.