Film ‘31 October’ battles opposition to release

The PIL is only the most recent hurdle for a film which revisits the 1984 riots and its aftermath in a commercial release.
PALLAVI BHATTACHARYA talks to its makers

The candlelight  march in support of the film on  October 14 in New Delhi. 


On October 12 a fresh public interest litigation(PIL) was filed in the Delhi High Court opposing the release of the film “31st October”  based on former prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. The earlier petition was filed in early October but on October 5 the judge  refused to entertain the plea, saying that  it was "badly drafted" and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had not been made a party.  PTI reports that the petitioner has now impleaded the CBFC as a party in his petition which claims that based on available pre-release material the film appears to be against the ideology of the "oldest political party of the country". More to the point, it contends that the film is targeting a political figure whose look-alike features in it. 

If sources are to be believed then the filmmakers haven’t explicitly mentioned the Congress party in the film.

Shivaji Lotan Patil, the director of the film says, “The Censor Board has already made certain cuts. The petitioner still wants us to cut out scenes with certain politicians. The sequence of the scenes is very important. If so much is deleted from the film, then its essence will get extremely diluted. The purpose for making this film was to make the audience understand, that the riots shouldn’t have happened.”

The petitioner has passed judgment on the film based on his interpretation of the trailer and the posters. Soha Ali Khan, the lead actress says, "A film is an expression of art and should not be unnecessarily embroiled into politics. People should watch the film before making judgments.”


"A film is an expression of art and should not be unnecessarily embroiled into politics."


Of late, the scene which was the bone of contention over which a PIL was filed was leaked online. It shows rabble rousers instigating people to ‘avenge’ the death of the late prime minister by taking their wrath out on innocent Sikhs by destroying their houses, shops and Gurdwaras. and killing them. Sixty per cent of that scene has currently been cut out. Much of the inflammatory speech has been edited out.

The PIL is only the most recent hurdle for a film which has  been challenged before in its effort  to tackle a controversial subject in a commercial release.

In 2014 Harry Sachdeva, producer of the film 31st October based on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, received a chilling phone call, when the news of his making this film got around. He recalls, “I was told by the caller that it would be ensured that this film didn’t see the light of the day.” Sachdeva says he tried to talk sense into the caller by explaining, “It’s just a simple story about a Sikh family during the riots. Mani Ratnam too made a similar film on the 1992 Mumbai riots.”

In May 2014 in the middle of the night, when the cast and crew of the film, was shooting in the Gungrana village of Ludhiana; some people stormed into the set and destroyed it. Those on the sets ran for safety. Sachdeva says, “The damage was close to Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakhs. Whatever was damaged had to be rebuilt. We secured police protection around the clock for 35 days and completed shooting the film.”

The next hurdle was with the Censor Board which told  the producer that more than 30 years had elapsed since the riots. “The Board asked me why I wanted to bring up the subject again. They felt that the film would only create communal disharmony.”

The aim of the film, like all other movies which oppose pogroms, is to spread the message of religious harmony, according to Sachdeva. “Had justice been meted out to the 1984 riots survivors, the Godhra riots may not have happened.”

The Censor Board wanted certain putrid language deleted from the film, and the makers obliged. The brutal killings of innocent Sikhs also had to be toned down. There were around nine cuts.  All this saw the film’s release pushed back by eleven months.

The members of the film’s team whom I interviewed  were diplomatic  in their replies  to questions related to the Congress party’s connection to the riots. Asked about her views on the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s words on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” Soha Ali Khan replied, “This is where we get into a political space which the film wants to stay away from. It’s not about Rajiv Gandhi or the Congress Party, it’s not about pointing fingers. That is not for us to comment on. What we attempted to show in 31st October is to tell you a story for some people who don’t know what happened in 1984 and it will first and foremost help people to learn about the riots which happened in that year. For those who were alive in 1984, I think, it’ll be an emotional experience, because I do think that the film has been dealt with a lot of sensitivity, but it will bring back some memories which are difficult.”

The film team has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #IStandWith31stOctober, where people are joining in to protest against the harassment that the film team is facing. On 14 October, 2016, a candlelight march was held in New Delhi, where Soha Ali Khan and Harry Sachdeva led the march along with Manjit Singh GK, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee president. Hundreds of survivors of the riots joined in the rally.

The film, which was earlier to release on 7 October, 2016, will now be releasing on 21 October, 2016. The postponement of the film was because of the PIL. Sachdeva says that it’s however unlikely that the film’s release will be pushed back further as he’s already taken a caveat order.

The postponement of the film has hiked the promotional budget of the film. Sachdeva explains, “When the release of a film is shifted by two weeks, extra has to be spent on the marketing and PR.” The posters and trailers had to be modified.

The film’s team says intensive research has gone into it. They met the survivors to hear their firsthand accounts of the riots. It has got a standing ovation at all the international film festivals where it was screened. The movie’s team plans to donate a part of the box office collection to the 1984 widow colony residents. On a closing note, Sachdeva says that all he needs is support. He says, “You can’t go on harassing a producer, just because he’s making a film on a subject that is true. If only we can get justice for those innocent people who suffered during the riots.”


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