13 Indian films that have courted controversies

Two recent films, Buddha in a Traffic Jam (May 13, 2016) and Santa Banta Pvt Ltd (April 22, 2016) have been in the news for the controversies they have been making. While the former - an autobiographical story which reportedly takes on issues such as campus politics, corruption, moral policing and crony capitalism - has led to clashes between ABVP, the pro-Left and students of the Jadhavpur University, where its screening was cancelled, the latter, a comedy drama, has run into problems with members of the Sikh community.

In an industry that is rife with controversies, these are just two of the many films that have either been banned, or have run into trouble over their political, sexual, ideological or religious content. We take a look at 13 such Indian films that have courted controversies:

Aandhi (1975): Among director Gulzar’s most controversial and talked about films, Aandhi ran into trouble went it was released in 1975, during the Emergency. The film was banned at a time when it was running to packed houses in Mumbai, as it was allegedly based on the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Suchitra Sen, who played the role of the politician, was made to look like Gandhi – right from the way she walked, to the way she dressed and even the grey streak on her hair. There were also a few scenes where Sen was seen drinking and smoking. It was only after Information and Broadcasting Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral saw the movie and was impressed by it, that the ban was lifted.

Kissa Kursi Ka (1977): Another film with a political undertone, a spoof on Indira Gandhi, son Sanjay Gandhi, and some Congress supporters, Kissi Kursi Ka, was banned during the Emergency. All the prints of the film were confiscated and burned by the Government, and its producer was handed a show cause notice with 51 objections, by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. However, after the Shah Commission was established in 1977 under the Janata Party Government, to look into the excesses committed during the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi and the I&B minister during the Emergency, V.C Shukla were found to be guilty of burning the prints, and were handed one month and two year jail sentences.

 Bandit Queen (1994): Directed by Shekhar Kapoor, the biographical film, Bandit Queen, remains one of the most controversial films of all times. Based on the life of the dacoit, Phoolan Devi, played by Seema Biswas, the film ran into trouble with the Indian censor board because of the excess nudity, sex, and violence in the film, and was banned temporarily by the Indian High Court, after Phoolan Devi challenged its authenticity. It, however, won accolades in the International film festival circuits.

Fire (1996): Deepa Mehta’s Fire was a path breaker in the kind of topic it dealt with – that of a homosexual relationship between two women. One of the most controversial films ever to be made in the country, Fire created an uproar in India right from its release, with protests across the country, and members of the Shiv Sena calling for its ban. Fundamentalists went around vandalising the theatres were the film was shown.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996): Another highly controversial film, which borrows its title from the ancient Indian text, ‘Kama Sutra’ by Vatsayana, the film did not see a release in India because of its nudity and sexual content. The film however, did well in the international circuit, and won a number of international film awards, including the 1998 Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography.

Paanch (2001): The crime thriller, written and directed by Anurag Kashyap, is loosely based on the Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders of Pune. Because of its heavy violence, drugs and nudity, the film ran into trouble with the censor board, which cleared it after some cuts. The film, however, could not be released because the producer ran into some problems.

Sins (2005): Based on a subject that has caused much controversy in the Catholic circles, Sins tells the story of a Kerala priest who was sentenced to death on sexual harassment and murder charges. Starring Shiney Ahuja, the film had a few topless scenes and sexual content, because of which it received an ‘A’ certification from the censor board. While the Catholic Secular Forum filed a PIL to stall its release, the court cleared it.

Parzania (2005): The Indian drama, featuring Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika in the lead roles, is inspired by the true story of a ten-year-old Parsi boy who disappeared after the 2002 Gulbarga Society massacre in Ahmedabad, and the family’s journey in search of their son. While it received many awards including two National Film Awards, the film, based on one of the worst communal riots the country has seen, ran into controversy, with some theatre owners refusing to screen it.  

Water (2005): Another controversial film by Deepa Mehta, featuring John Abraham and Lisa Ray, in the lead roles, Water explores the contentious issue of Hindu widows and the treatment they face. The film, which premiered in New York, faced the wrath of Hindu organisations, with members of the Shiv Sena burning pirated DVDs, and threatening shopkeepers who stocked them.

Black Friday (2006): Written and directed by Anurag Kashyap, and based on the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts, the adaptation of S. Hussain Zaidi’s book, Black Friday, did not see a theatre release for two years, until after the verdict by the Bombay High Court on the petition of the under-trials. The movie was finally released on 9 February, 2007.

Gandu (2010): The black and white Bengali language film, directed by Quashiq Mukherjee, premiered at the Yale University and stirred up a hornet’s nest due to its explicit sexual content, nudity, and drugs. The film, which was banned in India, won the 2010 Jury Award for Best Film at the South Asian International Film Festival.

 Madras Café (2013): Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, and the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, the 2013 political drama, directed by Shoojit Sircar, courted controversy because of its depiction of the rebels in the Sri Lankan civil war. Tamil political parties Naam Tamilar and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) asked for the film’s ban post release, as they felt that it portrayed the members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as terrorists. The film won two National Awards for Best Audiography for Nihar Ranjan Samal (location sound recording) and Bishwadeep Chatterjee (sound design) at the 61st National Film Awards.

PK (2014): Raising the sensitive issue of religious superstitions in India, the Aamir Khan starrer PK became one of the most successful and controversial films of recent times. In the film, Khan plays an alien who travels around the world to understand people. The film raised many hackles, and yoga guru Baba Ramdev called for a social boycott of those involved in the making of the film, while the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said that the film had several scenes that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus, and wrote to the I&B Ministry asking for a ban on such movies.