From entertaining, educating and holding a mirror to our society, movies have become a very influential part of our lives. In a country like India, where we enjoy films and celebrate film stars, unfortunately, beyond all the romance and song sequences, there is more than what meets the eye.
Some filmmakers break the barrier of traditional filmmaking, especially the documentarians, who paint the dark truth of our society which are considered a taboo or controversial to discuss. From tackling, issues like communal violence, caste-based discrimination, homosexuality, politics and terrorism, these are the 10 most Controversial Indian Documentaries of all time that led to an outrage among the masses.
Here a list of 10 Most Controversial Indian Documentaries of all time
Ram Ke Naam (In the Name of Lord Ram), by Anand Patwardhan
Perhaps the most controversial documentary by an Indian filmmaker, Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Ram Ke Naam‘, shot to fame for all the wrong reasons. The documentary which was shot in 1992, follows the campaign undertaken by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) to build a Lord Ram temple on the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
The campaign resulted in communal tensions among the Hindu and Muslim people sparking violent riots throughout the country that left more than 2000 people dead.
The film was critically acclaimed nationally and internationally, winning the National Film Award for Best Investigative Documentary and the Filmfare Award for Best Documentary. Despite all the praise garnered at the film festivals, the documentary was banned from telecasting on the national TV channel Doordarshan as it was considered to hurt religious sentiments.
It is a well-researched and informative documentation of the politics and people involved that led to such an event.
India’s Daughter, by Leslie Udwin
Leslie Udwin’s ‘India’s Daughter‘, part of BBC’s Storyville series is based on the infamous gang-rape and murder of a young woman Jyoti Singh in country’s capital Delhi which shook the entire nation. The documentary was scheduled to be broadcast on national news channel NDTV on the eve of Women’s day, due to intervention from the government it was banned from releasing in India.
The documentary contains a series of interviews with the rapists defending lawyer and one of the rape and murder convicts Mukesh Singh who was driving the bus that night. The interview with Mukesh and the ongoing tense social situation caused a violent uproar which eventually led to its removal from YouTube. The documentary is still banned from viewing in India and is taken off from all online platforms.
Inshallah, Football, by Ashvin Kumar
Inshallah, Football tells the story about the life of Basharat Bashir Baba, a young Kashmiri footballer who was selected to play for a Brazilian football club. The story revolves around his struggles to procure a passport as he is the son of an ex-surrendered militant.
The documentary also deals with the life and ongoing tensions between terror outfits and the Indian army in the Kashmir valley. The film explores the relation between the surrendered militant and his son and their struggles after the surrender.
Ironically, the film went on to win the National award for Best Film on Social Issues. Due to the portrayal of sensitive topics, it was given an A-certificate by the censor board which restrained the documentary’s screening just before its scheduled release.
Sikkim, by Satyajit Ray
Sikkim was the only documentary made by the legendary Indian director Satyajit Ray commissioned by Hope Cook, the American wife of the last ruler of Sikkim Palden Thondhup Namgyal. Sikkim explores the hilly and beautiful landscape and the life in Sikkim before becoming a part of India.
The documentary was found to be problematic by the king as he ordered Ray to cut out scenes which depicted the poverty in Sikkim. The purpose of the film was to woo tourists and make a strong statement about the sovereignty of Sikkim.
The documentary was banned by the Indian government after the annexation of Sikkim in 1975. The ban was lifted by the Supreme court in 2010 and is now available on YouTube.
Final Solution, by Rakesh Sharma
Final Solution recounts the horrific events of the 2002 Gujarat communal riots killing thousands of people, majority of them belonging to the Muslim community. Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma explores the places interviewing people who were victims of these riots. The documentary also revolves around the election campaign undertaken by then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to get reelected as a Chief Minister of Gujarat.
The film was banned from screening throughout India by the censor board in July 2004 stating that it would further complicate the issue and create tensions among the two communities. The film was denied a certificate by the censor board.
The film was given a green signal in October 2004 and won the Special Jury Award at the National Film Awards in 2007. Sharma released the film on video streaming platform Vimeo due to rising demand from various sections of the society.
Jai Bhim Comrade, by Anand Patwardhan
Another well-researched and presented documentary by filmmaker and social activist Anand Patwardhan, ‘Jai Bhim Comrade‘, portrays the life and struggles of the people belonging to the Dalit community. The film begins with the police violence in the 1997 Ramabai killings and explores many facets of the Dalits in Mumbai.
The film also investigates the activities of Kabir Kala Manch, a Dalit troupe of singers who raise awareness and support their cause through their performances. It took 14 years for Patwardhan to complete the film as he wanted to wait for the outcome of the trails following the Ramabai incident before finishing the documentary.
India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart, by Stalin K
Stalin K’s documentary India Untouched talks about the sensitive issue of caste-based discrimination within our society that has grappled India for thousands of years. The film is also a comprehensive account of the inhuman practice of Untouchability still prevalent in various parts of India.
If you think that casteism is slowly reducing or that Untouchability does not exist in modern India then you are in for a shock. The film exposes the sad truth of the caste-based discrimination and the huge divide between the lower and upper-caste people in India.
Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, by Nakul Singh Shawney
Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai is based on the 2013 riots of Muzaffarnagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh which resulted in deaths of 100 people and a large number of people displaced from their homes. The violent riots took place before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which the right-wing party BJP won a landslide victory.
The film investigates the hate speeches made by the BJP leaders which provoked few Hindu sections of the society to take up arms against the Muslim community. The film further depicts the horrific conditions of the thousands of people displaced from their homes into ‘relief camps‘. The stories of the victims and their condition in these relief camps will haunt you to the core.
Screening of the documentary had to be cancelled in several states in India due to protests from student activist group ABVP which considered it to hurt the sentiments of Hindu people.
Jashn-e-Azadi- How we celebrate freedom, by Sanjay Kak
Directed by Sanjay Kak, an independent filmmaker, Jashn-e-Azadi tells the story of the people in Kashmir and their everyday life in the valley under the watch of the Indian army.
The film questions the notion of freedom in Kashmir and answers what Azadi(Freedom) means to the people living in the valley. Kak puts together an interesting image of what Azaadi means to the Kashmiris? and how our notion of Azaadi is different from theirs.
Jashn-e-Azaadi was heavily criticised by the right-wing groups and the Mumbai police cracked down on the public screening of the movie stating that it did not have a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification.
Battle for Benaras, by Kamal Swaroop
Battle for Benaras follows the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign for the Varanasi seat between the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party. The documentary is a collection of live footage recorded over 44 days of campaigning in Varanasi.
The Censor Board of Film certification denied a certificate to the film stating that it contained objectionable footage and misrepresented the events that took place for 44 days. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) has given clearance to the documentary after the Delhi court quashed the decision of CBFC to deny the film a certificate.
Also read: 10 Most Controversial Books By Indian Authors That Were Banned in India