- Sandeep Ravindranath’s short film has been banned in India a month after its release in May, commemorating 1,000 days of 370 repeal.
Almost two months since his short film on Kashmir was banned and geo-blocked on YouTube in India, filmmaker Sandeep Ravindranath says he still doesn’t know the reason why the Government of India issued a legal complaint to initiate the block. “Anthem for Kashmir,” written, directed, and composed by Ravindranath, is a nine-minute fictional drama with no dialogue. It depicts a young political activist on the lam from authorities. Shot in North Kashmir, it has visual references to widows, forced disappearances and military oppression and is accompanied by a Tamil protest rock track.
Ravindranath said he just can’t understand the reason for the block, as his short film doesn’t have any inflammatory content. “[I have] still no clue as to why they are putting me through this bureaucratic nonsense.”
The film was released on May 12 by filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna, to commemorate 1,000 days of 370 repeal and Kashmir statehood revocation. “Immediately [after its release] we had a lot of positive feedback from viewers and film critics, “ Ravindranath told American Kahani. “We had crossed 10,000 views.”
However, in late June, he received a notice from YouTube, notifying the ban after receiving a confidential notice from the examination committee of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, citing section 69A of the Information Technology Act. “Clause 69A of the Act “gives unrestricted power to the government to block public access to information through any computer source in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or even public order.”
After the ban, he began looking for legal options. But after consultation with several lawyer friends, he decided against it. “My option was to go to Delhi, hire a lawyer, and go through the judicial rigmarole.” But that meant adding on expenses, which would not be “sustainable” on “an individual level.”
While the film is not available in India, it can still be watched in other countries. “Authoritarian rule has no jurisdiction outside India,” he says, but laments the state of affairs in his country. “There is a pattern in the recent government crackdown on media persons, intellectuals, and social activists,” he said. “The underlying objective is to silence voices that question its unilateral discourses on key issues pertaining to politics, policy-making, governance and essentially the structure and ethics of the state.”
Noting that he finds the ban on the film “almost comical” he says it shows “how deep the insecurity” of the ruling government runs. “It is one more instance of covering up the real picture, “a blatant attempt to suppress researched and informed work which takes a contrarian view.”
He revealed how “propaganda films” like “The Kashmir Files,” which “further the ruling party’s political discourse, were endorsed by many including Prime Minister Modi. “Not just ‘The Kashmir Files,’ but we know a Savarkar movie is coming and a Godse movie is in the works,” he said, adding that “these movies are promoted by the government, in hallowed spaces of democracy like Parliament no less. They provide tax breaks and government employees are given days off to go and watch these movies with their families.” But, “if you make a film to counter these propaganda narratives they are banned immediately.”
He noted how de-platforming content from streaming sites like YouTube is particularly worrying for filmmakers who cannot hope for releases through streaming platforms or theaters. A recent Bloomberg report revealed that “YouTube is huge in India, where the site has more monthly users than Twitter has worldwide.” The platform had 325 million monthly viewers in 2020, the report said, citing “the most recent figure YouTube shared” for India. According to a transference report provided by Google, since 2011, the Government of India sent YouTube 13,542 takedown requests, with 72,169 items named for removal.
Before this project, Ravindranath served as a live-sound engineer for several creative projects. His short films “Tharattu Pattu,” “The Bookshelf,” “Santhana Gopala,” “Diary of an Outsider,” and “Sub Brothers” have been screened at several film festivals in 20 countries and have won numerous awards.