Monday, June 27, 2005

Film theatres subtly campaigning against conversion?



VADODARA/AHMEDABAD: You are in the middle of the confounded wedding of Mr and Mrs Smith, floored by the ravishing Angelina Jolie and the goodlooking Brad Pitt, when a shot of two dogs fighting rudely interrupts your reverie.

The voice-over says, "You cannot change their nature". Then there is the picture of a cow quietly grazing, and the voice says, "You cannot make this cow a non-vegetarian".

Just when you wonder what's going on, the screen blanks out and the voice says, "So why attempt to change someone's religion?" This is followed by the text of the legal provisions that render forced religious conversions as illegal.

And this was not a campaign by the Gujarat government.

The audience watching this loaded message during the intermission of Mr and Mrs Smith at a late night show in a Vadodara multiplex, recently, seemed quite taken aback. Their discussion, for a while, veered into whether the state's anti-conversion Bill had come into force without much ado.

"This film was made by Mumbai based Indian Infotainment Media Corporation (IIMC). We are asked to play it in our theatres, and do not get a single penny from it," said Giri Sharma, marketing manager at Inox, Vadodara.

"IIMC sends us several films, based on social issues and we screen it in our multiplexes," said Deepa George PR manager at Inox.

"We produce several short films of social relevance. We have even tied up with about 600 theatres and multiplex all over India to screen these films," said Devendra Khandelwal CEO of IIMC, over the phone from Mumbai.

Asked about this particular film on conversion, he irritably said, "I have made a film based on the existing laws on conversion. I do not understand why people are making such a fuss when it is just repeating what the law says," he added.

When contacted, government officials at Gandhinagar were unaware of such a documentary and said they had not given any contract for such a film. The anti-conversion Bill passed in the assembly, is pending ratification, said sources.

Several NGOs in Mumbai have protested against the short film, but it was hardly noticed in Gujarat. Theatres in Ahmedabad do not even have any information about it. "We do screen several documentaries made by IIMC, yet I have not come across any one based on religious conversion," said Anand Vishal, manager at Fun Republic.

Khandelwal claimed that his film which is based on law aims at informing the people. "The film actually educates the audience about our own law.

Moreover, what I want to convey in the film is that religious conversion, from one religion to another, either by force or fraud is illegal and one can be punished, " said Khandelwal.