On 18th March 2016, over a thousand students in JNU were proudly sloganeering “Vande Mataram” inside the JNU campus with Vivek Agnihotri and Anupam Kher. Vivek Agnihotri and Anupam Kher were visiting the JNU campus for the screening of their upcoming movie Buddha In A Traffic Jam. Buddha in a Traffic Jam is an internal conflict of a young man between his capitalistic and socialistic ideologies. The movie juxtaposes establishments and individuals to discuss these internal conundrums of youth in India. With recent political and social debates around capitalism and communism, especially with JNU as one of the epicenters, this screening at JNU becomes special.
Screening of Buddha In A Traffic Jam in JNU becomes more special because JNU, which has been making many news and stirs on debates on freedom of speech and expression, refused to screen the movie earlier. Ira Bhaskar (Professor, Cinema Studies and Dean, SAA) claimed that university authorities received no request from Anupam Kher or from Agnihotri. She further added that she, personally, received an email from the director’s team, but had to turn down the request for the film screening because the School of Arts and Aesthetics had no free slot in this semester’s event schedule.
There are two important points here.
First: As posted by Aditya Raj Kaul, there was a formal request, addressing the Cinema Studies and Dean, written by Vivek Agnihotri. The email id used is the same which is mentioned on the JNU website. It should not have been considered as a personal letter.
We called Vivek Agnihotri to confirm this. This is what he said:
We wrote over 2 letters, 5 emails and more than a dozen SMSes. We even made several calls to Ira. She just returned one call and informed that the “mahaul” atmosphere is not right for screening. When we questioned her, “how is the atmosphere right for anti-national slogans, but not for the screening of the film, she replied that she would talk to her faculty members and get back to us. She never called!
Second: On 2nd March, Ira refused to screen the movie because of “Kharab mahaul” in JNU and unavailability of slots. However, just two days after this, Aligarh was screened at JNU on 4th March 2016 despite the Kharab mahaul.
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) March 4, 2016
Thank you Swara! https://t.co/pXT4ItEMlo
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) March 2, 2016
Mainstream media picked the news only after Vivek Agnihotri started tweeting on this case
— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) March 11, 2016
Only after these tweets, media contacted Anupam Kher and Ira Bhaskar.
— NewsX (@NewsX) March 11, 2016
Buddha In A Traffic Jam premiered at the 2014 Mumbai International Film Festival in the India Gold category with a standing ovation and great reviews. The critically acclaimed film bagged three nominations in Madrid International Film Festival in the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay in a Foreign Language and Best Lead Actress in a Foreign Language Film. Despite having such credentials, the film was made a victim of the leftist lobby of Bollywood.
Here are some more interesting facts about the film, shared by Vivek Agnihotri:
- Swara Bhaskar, daughter of Ira Bhaskar, was supposed to do this film. She left it last minute as she didn’t agree with the film’s theme that talks about creation of national capital and elimination of middlemen.
- Many studios agreed to release it, but when they saw the content, they backed out because most of them felt that the then government of UPA wouldn’t take it nicely as the film exposes Naxal-NGO-Academia-media-intellectual nexus.
- Some festivals dropped the movie at last minutes, without any communication. It was apparent that they didn’t want this film to see light of the day.
- It was officially nominated in MAMI — the most prestigious category of India Gold Category (then chaired by Shyam Benegal), but by the time festival was about to begin, the festival faced some serious financial issues, after which, it was taken over by liberal and leftist wing of Bollywood led by Anupama Chopra and Kiran Rao. The film was given second-hand treatment and their favourite films were pushed.
Vivek says that when he realised that it is impossible to fight this liberal/left and naxal sympathiser lobby. He decided to take it to students and premier it at JNU. Vivek’s movie revolves around youth, freedom and political ideologies, so it was very relevant during the time when Rohith and Kanhaiya are debated in JNU and across the nation.
Many students of JNU were extremely disturbed with JNU getting perceived as a den of anti-nationals and a nursery for left/ liberal discourse. When they heard that Buddha In A Traffic Jam is not getting screened, they decided to fight. They got the permission from JNUSU to screen the movie. Vivek got a call on 16th night to show the film at JNU. His team didn’t get an auditorium so they decided to show it in open air. Despite severe resistance and second-hand treatment of the champions of FoE, dissent and liberal arts, students came in huge numbers. Here are some pictures from the event:
After the screening, Vivek wrote:
This historic screening ended with such loud applaud that calling it standing ovation would be an understatement. We assume that in JNU everyone supports Communists led by Kanhaiya. This is a myth created by our media. It was proved with the sea of highly charged students who waited for a long tine to see the film. There were around 4.5k students. The best way I could describe is that there were students on ground, on terraces, stairs and wherever you could see. These were students who wanted to prove that JNU is not anti-national and respects it FoE and dissent by screening this hard-hitting film.