Not Court, Nirbashito Should Have Been India’s Entry to Oscars 2016

I was sanguine about the selection of Churni Ganguly’s Nirbashito (Banished) as India’s entry to the Oscars 2016 in the Best Foreign Language Film category. But all my hopes beat the dust when India’s Oscar Jury picked Chaitanya Tamhane’s directorial debut, Court, for the Academy Awards 2016 and the chairman Amol Palekar of Paheli fame thumbed it up.

Both Court, a Marathi film, and Nirbashito, a Bengali film, are National Award winners. They won the National Award for the Best Film in their respective regional languages. Both are strong, impactful and thought-provoking takes on interminable issues. While Court is a critical commentary on India’s laggard judicial system and the sorry state of freedom of speech in the Indian democracy, Nirbashito depicts the mental agony of a free-spirited writer whom religious extremism in India forced to leave her home and go away.

Neither was nor am I against Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, though I think that Nirbashito should have been India’s official submission for the 88th Academy Awards considering the grim picture of religious fanaticism in a democracy like India, at present. Both convoluted judicial process at lower courts and socio-religious fundamentalism have been critical issues affecting the lives of aam admi in India for years.

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The slogan “justice delayed is justice denied” has been heard on many occasions, including Jessica Lall murder, Aarushi Talwar murder and the 2012 Delhi gang rape, due to the snail-paced judicial process in India. Peaceful candle marches at times and strong protests at times hit streets, pointing fingers at the judicial system in the event of denial or delay of justice to victims.

The long-drawn trials of Ajmal Kasab, Yukub Menon, the 2012 Gujarat riot culprits and the rapists of Nirbhaya are some of the instances of delayed justice. Yukub Menon, one of the accused including Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Menon, was convicted of the 1993 Bombay bombings and executed after over 20 years of judicial proceedings. Ajmal Kasab was sentenced to be hanged after four years of his on-spot arrest in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Judicial proceedings are dragged through mire not only in case of such high-profile criminals but also rapists who fearlessly say, “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” Unsurprisingly, the rapists of Nirbhaya have not been executed since the nation was shaken in 2012.

A tea vendor’s case against the State Bank of India is one of the grim instances of long-running legal proceedings in India. Rajesh Sakre, a tea vendor from Bhopal, filed a case against the bank on charges that he found zero balance after withdrawal of 10,800 rupees from 20,000 rupees in his account, after his initial pleas and complaints fell to deaf ears of the bank authorities. He fought his own case as he was too poor to hire a lawyer and consequently made a daily loss in his small business until he won the case on June 15 this year. Justice came his way after four years.

A hard look at many such instances of life-long judicial proceedings and delayed justice in India justifies the nomination of Court for the Oscars 2016. I am not comparing Court and Nirbashito on any ground, except the current scenario that is rife with socio-religious and sociopolitical extremism at home and abroad.

Inspired by writer Taslima Nasreen’s life in exile, Churni Ganguly’s Nirbashito is a sensitive portrayal of a banished writer’s frustration, agony and longing to return home. It shows how the banished and refugees feel while staying away from the cozy corners in their own countries. The protagonist in the movie represents millions of those who are either forced to leave their homes for unknown territories or cornered in society by a few fundamentalists. When I watched the film at Hyderabad Bengali Film Festival 2015, I remembered John Galsworthy’s words “What you don’t see does not trouble you,” in ‘Justice.’

Today, religious and political extremism is a global issue though it has been a cause of riots, terrorism, massacres and mass exodus in the history of mankind for ages. The severest wounds that religious orthodoxy and political hooliganism have inflicted to the mankind by causing mass exodus from the migration of Jews in the 1940s till the migration of Syrians in current times can never be healed.

Religious fundamentalism has always been a dead albatross around the neck of artists, chocking their freedom of expression. M.F. Husain, an eminent modern Indian painter, was born in Maharashtra, but he died in exile away from the soil of India where he flourished as an artist. Salman Rushdie, who was born in Bombay during the British Raj, is denied entry to India by some fundamentalists.

Currently, political fundamentalism is adding fuel to the flames of religious intolerance and religious extremism in India. Meet ban during a Jain festival is an act of religious extremism, while merciless killing of an old Muslim man by a lynching mob for his alleged eating or storage of beef is a barbaric case of religious intolerance.

People of other religions are not necessarily the only victims of religious extremism practiced and perpetuated by the fundamentalists of one religion. Bound to his narrow religious beliefs and customs, a Muslim man killed his 4 year old daughter by dashing her head against ground for not covering her head during lunch this 2nd October in a village near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie are preys of religious fundamentalism by the people of their own community. Critics of religious fanaticism are living amidst threats looming large on their lives following killing of a few secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

Evidently religious extremism, the mother of all evils in civilization, has been trampling like a free monster across the planet. Any effort, creative or disciplinary, to prevent this monster from eating into human existence requires a global support. Films like Nirbashito on and about the victims of religious extremism and intolerance need global exposure and deserve international viewing.

That’s why I think Churni Ganguly’s National Award winning Nirbashito should have been selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars 2016.

*This article neither opposed nor questioned the selection of Court by India’s Oscar Jury. It only expressed my opinion in support of Nirbashito.

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