Raj Amit Kumar speaks Sex, Violence and Indian Politics

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“We will soon be living in a world where everybody is frightened to say anything truthful”

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedomRattling many cages and waking up silenced skeletons, Unfreedom is India’s banned film.

Boldly provoked are issues of honour, shame, being Indian and LGBTQ, terrorism, violence and control.

The film powerfully portrays a number of different lives that may seem very different but begin reflecting each other.

One may question, am I being reflected here?

And if so, why is the content scarily banned by the Indian Government?

Prompting the question of why aren’t Indians permitted to view this film?

Surely people should have the right to view a film?

BollySpice’s Aashi Gahlot had the opportunity to catch up with Unfreedom director Raj Amit Kumar.

The inspiring and courageous interview not only provides insight towards the film’s symbolism and why it was produced, but also emphasises the importance of having such films produced – and released!

In Raj Amit Kumar’s words: Free speech is free speech! Free speech with restrictions means nothing!

 

THE VIOLENCE

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom06Violence stands out in your film. Violence has been portrayed as gruesome rather than glorified – as it sometimes is in Bollywood. You don’t show “dishoom-dishoom” violence but hardcore torture…

It is amazing that you say that. Let me tell you my experience interacting with a certain audience in New York. Once the screening was done I heard comments – “You are exploiting violence! You are glorifying violence! You are glorifying sex!” I mean a complete opposite reaction to what you are telling me – of course there was another section of the audience that were the opposite of that reaction. So I know for a fact that my film will divide the audience. There is no common ground. Like for me as a film maker there is no common ground, it is a statement that needs to be made, so it needs to be made.

So the same way I was aware that it will divide the audience but there was a large chunk of audience who commented that I am exploiting violence and sex. I asked them that – My gosh! You receive much more violence than this in any Hollywood movie, in all the horror movies you watch everyday…and this bothers you? So I think – not I think – I’m kind of sure why a certain kind of audience reacting to my film in that way is because this is violence and sexuality that is political. When we are portraying violence and sexuality as meaningless, we have gotten so used to consuming it that it doesn’t even bother us! It comes in form of entertainment and enjoyment and it’s wonderful. We have gotten used to consuming media that way. But the moment you bring an element of truth of contemporary society and tie that with the violence and sexual concerns of today’s society, all of a sudden it’s bothersome to everyone.

That’s so interesting. It’s like people are not ready to see truth on screen!

It’s like if you’re not ready now, when were we ready and when would we be ready? In some ways you keep feeling like we are becoming more and more progressive as a global society. In other ways you see that you’re becoming more and more regressive in many ways. It is such a strange contradiction. Which is also about the Indian society per se right?

I really honestly believe that the youth of India, the tomorrow of India, the large section of India that’s going to take this country somewhere do not buy the bulls*it censorship, do not buy the bulls*it religious fundamentalist structures and laws and morality. They don’t! They don’t agree to that. But the powers with the help of media itself have been able to control not so much the consciousness of the country in general but I should say the institutions that will try to keep controlling the consciousness – they are still holding very much you know the ropes of those institutions. But- we hope as film makers and people who want to write about this and make things about this, you know, what we do brings consciousness to that place where people go out and snatch those ropes you know. It can take that one generation, it can take their kids but you know change comes very slowly.

 

THE IMPACT

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom01Walking out of the theatre post having watched your film, what is the one emotion, message, inspiration that you want people to take away?

I have no input in that. I did not make a film thinking that this is what people should- I made a film thinking that when people watch it, they are able to question “why” – “why” this is. And then they can ask themselves what needs to be done or why this exists and why this film is made this way – all that. The only thing I expect is that when the film is screened it impacts people. And it makes them ask questions. That’s all I care. And you know people come with their own experiences to watch any film. Some people will just throw stones at it. Which is okay to as long as I have bothered those people so much through the screening of my film that they really want to throw stones at it which tells me that I think I’ve done an okay job – that it is not something that is fleeting or passing by – something that is telling some kind of truth, that they are reacting that way.

 

CHARACTERS

Father’s play a very important role for both your protagonists in the film. Why?

(Laughs) Oh wow. All right how do I address that?… I’m sure there is something very personal at play there which I don’t know if I want to speak about. But what it means is – the father, especially on the girls side of the story is not just the father of that girl, he is the father of the nation, he represents  patriarchy. And he is even a symbol of everything that is also going on the other side of the story. So if you watch the film, the characters on both sides of the stories are constructed in parallel.

Every single character on one side of the story has a parallel character on the other side of the story in a different geography, in a different political scenario. So, quickly to run you through it – Husain’s parallel is Leela, Farid’s parallel is Sakhi, Najeeb’s parallel is Chandra, Ellie’s parallel is Samir… Janak’s parallel is Mitch. Throughout the film, characters and events are created in parallel. So those relationships can be seen if somebody were to do a second layer of study of the film – and somebody can also do a study on the spaces on the film. The choices of location and spaces have a relationship and conversation with each other.

Having said that, Devraj is the only character who doesn’t have a parallel. Devraj is the only character who stands for the male dominating patriarchal violent society in general. So that father character is very representative to me in that way.

 

LGBTQ – COMING OUT

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom02What would be your advice to anyone who is thinking of coming out?

Before I address that question – it is very strange you know – when I made this movie and took it to several  LGBT groups, I asked them: could you support this movie? I saw a strange hesitation between the groups who are fighting for LGBT rights. I was wondering why that hesitation is. Most of them came up saying – Look. Your film doesn’t give any hope. On our everyday activity we try to give hope to our patrons. We try to give hope to people who are dealing with this issue. We try to find ways for them to deal with these issues. Most of the places I heard that comment that my film was too dark, too ugly. It was not giving any hope and comfort to any of them. It’s hard for them to be supportive of that. On one hand I can understand that. I mean I can understand that from their agenda. But on the other hand I ask myself – how would anybody seek any real change if you are not putting it in the most truthful way?

If I have to say one thing to anybody who wants to come out I would just say be courageous and be yourself. And who the hell anybody is to tell you how you should come out or what you should say. You just have to be courageous and be yourself and just come out. And yes, it’s not going to be easy. But is it easy now – without coming out?

 

That’s a very valid point you’ve made. So many people are too afraid to live who they actually are. Life is so short! Everybody should be encouraged and embraced to be honest.

Unless you come out, unless you are courageous – Look. I’ve always believed you know that everybody has to fight their own battles. Nobody come and fight your battle. No group organisation – If LGBT groups around the world, especially in the case of India where it is criminalised. If they want to make it legal, if they want to – they have to fight their own battle. Nobody’s going to fight your battle for you. It’s your problem. You have to wage that war. And of course then you have to get support from everywhere else and there are of course like minded people of all kind of sexuality, of all kind of religious affiliations, of all kind of  political affiliations. There are people – everywhere you can find support but you will only find support when you will come and stand and say – Look! This is who I am! Can you accept who I am? Unless you ask that, you will not even get any support.

 

THE SEX

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom07The “Final Order” sent by the Indian Government states that the sexual references entwined within religious connotations is one of the reasons for the ban in India. Why do you feel this hit a nerve? When actually, if you look through ancient Hindu texts such as the Rig Veda you will find sexual references – especially same-sex references… Well lord Agni (Fire) is born of two mothers! Why did this hit a chord with the Indian Government and why did you choose religious symbols?

I see organised religion as a big problem. So… I shouldn’t say as a big problem, I think that is one of the biggest problem ever, ever created in human history. And religion is the biggest lie ever told in human history – and very successfully told! And it still works! So, why that is also at the centre of it is – my job is to show the relationship. There is a straightforward relationship between why a certain sexuality is not allowed. It has a relationship with a certain religious and social morality that functions in everyday life. So we have become such a confused society where we don’t know we are following Victorian morality. Where we don’t know we are following a Hindu morality. Where we don’t know… what we are following! Nobody has no idea!

And the only idea everybody has is which page from which book I can pick up to use for my own benefits and to control. And that’s what’s going on. So in contemporary world – so like you mentioned, look at mythology, go back and study Vedas and you will find so much in it that if you want to really make a true argument even based on mythology that is nothing more than fictional books. You will find enough to make arguments from both sides. But the question is not that. The question is – we are dealing with a fundamentalist world in general. So it’s not just about Hindu fundamentalism or Muslim fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism. They are all the same. They all want to control a free expression of any kind that can offend their goals and agendas – they all have problems with it. And when it comes to India we are definitely dealing with very, very violent times when it comes to – and a violence which is not so visible. But this whole thing about Hindu fundamentalism is the idea that we are going to paint the whole country saffron… is something that we are going to have to fight together.

 

POLITICAL HYPOCRISY

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom04It’s so ridiculous isn’t it that people want to control each other!… In my opinion, it should be a personal connection with God. Nobody should be telling you how you should have this connection! Or even if you want to have a connection or not… There is another reason that your film has been banned – that it will ignite Hindu/Muslim conflict…

What’s your opinion on that?

What the fu*king hypocrisy and irony of it! The information of broadcasting ministry under the BJP government right now… it is the same group of people who in 1992 created an environment where people actually went out and killed each other.

And it’s that government telling that the film people see will go out and kill each other! All I can say is bullsh*it. F*** you. I have nothing more to say! There’s nothing to say about it. I mean in its most simple sense it’s absurd, nonsensical, hypocritical and ridiculous.

 

I mean, if we can’t explore these themes on screen then how are we going to inspire change? How are we going to inspire people to have a look at their behaviour and their journey?! It’s like there is this Big Brother syndrome going on right? One is not allowed to poke people to think a different way!

It’s a question of control. It’s nothing more than that… I mean look – India is a very secular country. If you look at average people in India they are very secular. They don’t believe in killing each other in name of religion. They don’t! Even this party, when they had to come to power, they had to give up their framework of asking Hindu votes. They had to! Otherwise they couldn’t even get to the place where they are right now. So India in general is a very secular country. It’s a country that believes in free speech. It’s a country that believes in free expression. To tell those people that – No! You are not that but we are telling you that you are – it’s like, it is the censor board telling them that we believe you guys want to kill each other! Which is not even true! So they decide that – Yes! The country, the common man of India will watch a film and start killing people. It’s their decision! It’s not the country. That’s one thing I really wanted to say.

When I portray one story, there are all different kinds of Muslim I have portrayed in that. There are all different kinds of Muslim. They all have a different voice. They all have a different political approach. Same when it comes to the question of sexuality on the other side of the story. Everybody has their own way of dealing with it. And the question of censorship! We all have different voices! And we all have to talk! They actually ban things always in the name of, it’s going to harm somebody and offend somebody. You know the basic rule of freedom of speech? There is no freedom of speech if there is no freedom to offend somebody. Freedom of speech and freedom of offending somebody goes hand in hand. Otherwise that basic human right doesn’t even exist! I mean how can you? – The freedom of speech comes from a place when people who do not have power, you are giving them power by telling them that you have basic human right to speak against anybody and go out and tell that this is wrong! I mean, that was the basic mandate when our forefathers fought for saying we have freedom of speech, we have freedom of right. And that is always going to be against somebody! So today to say that you cannot offend – is just complete ridiculous! That is against the basic human rights itself.

 

FREE SPEECH

15apr_RajAmitKumar-UnFreedom05

I completely agree. I also feel that Bollywood is such a big part of India, has a big influence because yes it’s beautiful but can also be escapist. So when a film like yours comes about, showing the naked truth – literally – it does shake things up! Do you feel that India will lift this ban?

I don’t know. All I know is that I am going to keep fighting… I am going to fight against censorship in general. It is like we Indians deserve free speech and free expression. And absolute free speech and free expression! There should be no restriction to it. Free speech is free speech! Free speech with restrictions means nothing!

I don’t know if it can happen but what I do know is that – like what I knew whilst I was making the film – that this is something that is important and needs to be done! So what I know is that I will fight for it and bring like minded people together to raise voice against it. Obviously we are going to go to High Court. We are going to go Supreme Court. If that doesn’t work we should go to the street as well to say that this is just wrong and India deserves better!

 

SPEAKING UP

Are you frightened for your own safety?

I am not. I am frightened that we are living in an unsafe world where we cannot say what we should say. And I’m frightened that if we don’t do anything about it, we will soon be living in a world where everybody is frightened to say anything truthful. That’s what I’m frightened about.

 

Find out more on Unfreedom here – www.unfreedommovie.com

Facebook, The Movie: www.facebook.com/UnfreedomMovie

Facebook, The Movement: www.facebook.com/Unfreedom

 

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