Mumbai, Nov. 5 : Twenty-four filmmakers today returned their national awards, protesting that "the warp and weft of our robust democracy might be coming apart in the current atmosphere".
Among them were Saeed Mirza, maker of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai, Kundan Shah of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro fame, and author-activist Arundhati Roy who had received a national award for In which Annie Gives it Those Ones.
The move comes two days after Shah Rukh Khan joined the protest
against the growing intolerance in the country but the filmmakers did
not mention him or his statement, although Mirza and Shah have had a
long association with the actor.
They, however, underlined their solidarity with the protesting
students of FTII Pune and the 12 award-winning feature and documentary
filmmakers, including Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan, who had
returned their awards on October 28.
In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and the President, they
said: "We watched with disappointment how the ruling party's leaders and
supporters abused these filmmakers and belittled their gesture. This
has been the consistent response of the powers that be, towards the
writers, academics, scientists, filmmakers, historians and artists who
have expressed their dismay over the increasing climate of intolerance."
Shah Rukh had left Delhi for Mumbai a quarter century ago with an
offer to work with Iskra, the TV production company of Mirza and Shah.
He acted in three TV serials made by Iskra - Umeed, Wagle ki Duniya and Circus -
before their director and Saeed's brother Aziz Mirza gave SRK his first
silver-screen break with Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. Shah Rukh lived with
the Mirza brothers during his early days in Bollywood.
A PTI report quoted Shah as saying he was happy that Shah Rukh had
taken a stand on the issue. "Shah Rukh said what he felt like. And that
is very good. Even others are coming out, I think. That means the film
industry is taking a stand," Shah said
The filmmakers' letter today said: "Rather than see our fellow
filmmakers mocked, we have decided to stand with them and yet again
bring public attention back to the manner in which the current
government is responding to dissent and debate."
Many of the 24 were among the 190 signatories who had written to the
government on September 11, asking it to listen to the "reasonable"
demands of the FTII students, who recently ended their four-month
Today's letter too nudged the government over the ongoing conflict
with the FTII students over the appointment of small-time actor and BJP
activist Gajendra Chauhan as the institute's chairman.
"We are using the one possibility of making you (the government) pay
attention to our plea, resolve the crisis at FTII, ensure that our
prestigious right to freedom of speech is unambiguously protected," the
Also on the agenda was the government's consistent refusal to allow the screening of Caste on the Menu Card, a documentary on beef-eating in Mumbai, made by students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
"If a film that discusses the beef issue is blocked with ease, then
we can imagine what culture of censorship will be put into place when
students are learning and experimenting with the language of cinema at
the FTII campus," the letter said.
"If the learning process at the FTII is in danger of being marred so
brazenly, we have to speak up as members of the film fraternity."
The signatories, many of whom including Mirza and Shah are former
FTII students, released the text of their letter at a news conference.
"Not to speak out would be a crime. We are speaking out to reclaim
the soul and spirit of this land," Saeed Mirza told reporters.