Naming the film 'Sexy Durga' was wrong. It was asking for trouble
Filmmakers choose controversial names for a brief popularity ride.
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The fact that India can watch Love, Sex Aur Dhoka with no moral policing, but not Sexy Durga betrays the fact that we need to mature collectively. What one must ask though is does that allow the filmmakers to choose controversial names to gain traction?
The much-debated Malayalam movie, S Durga, which was dropped from IFFI Panorama after getting a go-ahead from a jury, was originally named Sexy Durga. Though the movie got a go-ahead from the ministry-appointed jury, the ministry of information and the broadcasting axed it at the last moment along with Marathi movie Nude.
This Durga is just another north Indian girl, then why Durga?
The central character of the movie is Durga, a north Indian girl, who elopes with a Kerala boy named Kabeer. Set in a Kerala village, the film — directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan — deals with the horror that the couple encounters on the highway at night. As the director clarifies, Sexy Durga doesn’t deal with sex. It has no association with Goddess Durga, apart from the fact that the Kerala village, where it is shot, was celebrating the festival of Garudan Thookkam (Eagle hanging) and devotees of Goddess Kali were shown having been piercing with iron hooks.
So any other other Indian name, like Jaya, Pushpa et al could have served the purpose of the film, but the director consciously chose “Durga” and not without reason.
Sasidharan has a penchant for stoking a debate and then taking back his words. Last year, he was in the eye of a storm for a Facebook post in which he said, "Everyone is celebrating (PV) Sindhu's achievement now. What if I spit on this? What is there to celebrate much about it?" Later, he clarified and said, “People who do not understand satire and without a minimum sense of humour are ruling the media. They are hungry for sensational news.”
Similarly, on Sexy Durga becoming S Durga, he seems to be nonchalant as he says: “The film is established and known internationally as Sexy Durga. In India, people are free to interpret S Durga in whichever way they like. The agitation against it is nonsensical and I’ve clarified several times that my film has nothing to do with religion. There is nothing against Durga. Anyway the film is very established, even if you make it S Durga, A Durga, B Durga, the film will remain Sexy Durga.”
So, if Sexy Durga can become S Durga without the filmmaker batting an eyelid, then its purpose — in the first place — should be questioned.
Making Durga "sexy" obviously makes headlines
Given the precedent the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has set, it is beyond obvious that the board will not certify a movie called Sexy Durga. Goddess Durga is worshipped and revered by the majority of the Indian population. She is a mother-figure, a saviour, never sexy - at least not in the imagination of devout Indians.
And the problem is not with Durga alone. This happened with the song “sexy Radha” (Student of the Year, 2012), too. A complaint was filed by an advocate alleging “obscene representation” of the mythological character Radha.
So, if you qualify any woman figure - historical, political, mythological, cultural - as “sexy” in a movie or a song, it is likely that people will create a controversy even before digging deeper into the content. And the list of revered figures includes women politicians and professionals, too.
While the filmmaker of Angry Indian Goddesses, which had a character named Laxmi, was asked to blur the photos of the Goddess Durga and the Goddess Kali used in some scenes, it is foolish to think that a film with the name Sexy Durga will not create any stir.
It is interesting that despite an abundance of non-mythological Indian names, the directors love to toy with these names alone, may be in an attempt to draw a contrast with the divine characters. And the effort never goes in vain as far as the promotion of the film is concerned, for often it gives the project more than expected publicity.
Sexy Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2017, and Golden Apricot in the category of International Feature Competition, 2017. It has also won the Best International Feature Film award in the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico. In India, too, it has created enough buzz as the name S Durga only exposes more of Sexy Durga. And as if that were not enough, the director also withdrew the film from the International Film Festival of Kerala saying that the movie has been relegated to a corner.
“As a film, which already got world attention, Sexy Durga doesn’t need such a consolation from the Academy. If the Academy was sincere to screen the film in the IFFK, it could have included the film in any other category as token of acknowledgment of recognitions the film already received,” the director wrote in a Facebook post.
Not a first though
The box office success of PK, the Rajkumar Hirani film which was released in 2014, can be attributed — to some extent — to the controversy it managed to create by “making fun of the Hindu religion”.
The same goes for Kamal Hassan’s Vishwaroopam, as it managed to irk few Muslims with its depiction of their community. The Telugu film Nannaku Prematho (2016) had to drop one of the promotional posters as it showed the lead actors against the backdrop of verses from the Quran.
This is not a question of artistic freedom. If changes can be accommodated without compromising on the quality of the work of art, then why choose the path of controversy, which can never outlive a good piece of art?