'A small part of me has died'
Aparajita Saha in Bombay
Hansal Mehta, director of the recently released Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, was manhandled by a group of agitators in his office at Santacruz on the morning of November 1, 2000.
The agitators, residents of Koliwada, took umbrage against the offensive dialogues in the film that reflected poorly on their community. The film is set against the Koliwada locality in Khar Danda Village in Bombay.
Mehta informed this reporter that 25 members of the Koliwada organisation, Bharati Vidyarthi Sena, had approached him last week expressing their displeasure at the distasteful dialogues and the manner in which their locale was portrayed.
The discussion, albeit heated initially, was resolved amicably with an apology from Mehta and his willingness to expunge the offensive components from the script. However, Mehta asked for time to do the same and signed an undertaking to that effect. The matter was put to rest. Or so he thought.
On the morning of November 1, Mehta received a call in his residence from Chintamani Neote, a Koliwada resident who insisted on meeting Mehta in his office.
On being assured of a civil reception, Mehta agreed to an evening meeting. As a precaution, he stopped by the Santacruz Police Station to apprise them of the situation. He was given an eight-member team of constables for his protection.
On reaching his office, Mehta found a belligerent group of nearly 40 people that comprised mainly of fisherwomen residing in Koliwada and a few men.
In spite of Mehta's apologies and reassurances about cleaning the dialogues, the discussion degenerated into abuses. Ultimately, Mehta was accosted by the women who splattered him with ink and tore at his clothing.
The posse of policemen helplessly stood aside, as they could not counter the female onslaught. Calling it a humiliating experience, Mehta says, "They only simmered down once I agreed to go to Koliwada this morning to tender a public apology."
Flanked by a police contingent that comprised the Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and others, Mehta today offered an apology to the residents of Koliwada and made peace once and for all. Also present were Shiv Sena MLAs Anant Tare and Vinayak Raut.
Talking about today's meeting, Mehta says, "I touched the feet of an elderly lady and asked for forgiveness. I also made it clear that I had no intention of hurting their sentiments and that I had already taken steps to rectify the offensive parts of the film."
Calling the meeting peaceful and organised, civil inspector Suresh Shetty, Khar police station, says, "There was no untoward incident and the issue has been resolved."
Describing as unfortunate the aggression that took place in Mehta's office, he says, "I understand and respect the fact that sentiments were injured, but it is sad that the situation was handled roughly."
Calling himself a filmmaker and not a torchbearer, Mehta continues, "I am disillusioned with the democracy that we so proudly claim to be. I am saddened by the lack of tolerance and artistic freedom. A work of fiction should be treated accordingly. At this rate, one will no longer be able to call a city or country by its name while portraying harsh scenarios.
"I feel that those who were upset should have taken up the matter with the Censor Board as it is the latter's responsibility to safeguard the interests of all. Their role is redundant if their verdict or judgement is set aside. The Censor Board is superfluous in its functioning. But then an individual is easier to attack than an institution.
"While I take full responsibility for the contents and outcome of my film, I cannot help feeling that this incident added insult to injury as Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar didn't do well at the BO."
Expressing worry at the increasing number of film personalities who were being curtailed in their artistic pursuits, Mehta mentions, "An artiste no longer has the prerogative to exercise freedom of expression and it is sad to see talented people like Deepa Mehta and Mani Ratnam being condemned for the same. A small part of me has died with this incident."
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