A documentary on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was refused a green signal by the Indian censor board over the use of words 'cow', 'Gujarat', 'Hindu India' and 'Hindutva', by Sen in the film, generating anger, shock and cries of "fascism" from the opposition, auteurs and writers.
The Central Board of Film Certification's (CBFC) move was prompted by documentary maker Suman Ghosh's refusal to bow to its diktat that the four words uttered by the Bharat Ratna awardee during an interview in the film "An Argumentative Indian" be muted.
While the world renowned economist refused to be drawn into the controversy, Ghosh expressed shock over the recommendations of the panel, which held that the words would "damage the country's image".
"They say these words, for example, 'Gujarat' have to be muted with a beep as Sen made some comments about the Gujarat riots. They also wanted that the word 'cow' be muted. I found these ridiculous," said Ghosh.
Ghosh said when words used by a person of such international stature were being deleted, "then it only shows up to what extent things can go. As a first hand witness to such a thing, I can only say I am a bit shocked".
The censor board, which has stoked controversy in recent times by recommending a whopping 12 cuts in Madhur Bhandarkar's forthcoming "Indu Sarkar", as also by running its scissors over films like "Lipstick Under My Burkha" and "Jab Harry Met Sejal", drew all round flak after its latest decision.
National Award winning film director Goutam Ghose and other eminent persons were aghast that the censorship now extends to somebody like Sen, recipient of India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Ghose, part of a panel led by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal that submitted its report on revamping the censor board, stressed on the urgency for quick implementation of recommendations.
"I am totally against censorship. We submitted our report where we mentioned there would be no scissor, only gradation. I hope the ministry takes quick action," Ghose told IANS, adding the present proposal is "ridiculous".
The panel was constituted in the backdrop of the increasingly controversial decisions by CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani, whose role in censoring films has been widely criticised.
Thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, who was present at the screening of the documentary here on Monday, termed the CBFC's move as an "extent of fascism on the society" and "utter foolishness".
"It is not grief, it's anger. What else can you expect from those who are dictating what food to eat," said Soumitra.
Jnanpith awardee poet Sankha Ghosh said: "This is a shameful example of the extent to which their audacity has gone."
Sahitya Akademi winner Nabanita Deb Sen, also the first wife of the famed economist, said by censoring these words the Centre is trying to censor the freedom of speech of Amartya Sen.
Bengali author Sirshendu Mukherjee suggested the director challenge the CBFC's move in the Supreme Court "to teach them a lesson".
Bhandarkar refused to comment on the development specifically but averred that filmmakers should be given the freedom to work on their subject.
Raising the political pitch, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, flayed the Centre for "trying to muzzle every opposition voice in the country".
CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury dubbed the CBFC move as "preposterous".
"On what basis can a documentary on an Indian Nobel Prize winner be stopped just because it mentions cow or Hindutva?," he asked.
However, Sen suggested that the government speak to the stakeholders about its disapproval.
"What can I say about this? This film is not made by me. I am the subject of the film and the subject should not be talking about these things," said Sen.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh backed the CBFC decision.
"Censor board has the right to decide which film to censor and which to pass. I do not think any film should be passed just because someone special has appeared in it," Ghosh said.
Calls to CBFC went answered.
The hour-long documentary, structured as a free flowing conversation between Sen and his student and Cornell economics professor Kaushik Basu, has already been screened in New York and London. It had a special screening in Kolkata on Monday.
In an earlier controversial decision by the NDA government, Amartya Sen was removed from the governing board of Nalanda University (NU), of which he was founding Chancellor, in November 2016.
Sen, who has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had resigned as Nalanda University Chancellor in February 2015 and publicly attacked the BJP-led NDA government after stepping down.