Banned India Sikkim film is screened in Calcutta

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Image caption,
Satyajit Ray was one of the greatest Indian film-makers

The government of the Indian state of West Bengal has gone ahead with plans to show a banned documentary made on the Himalayan state of Sikkim.

The film was banned after Sikkim merged with India under controversial circumstances in 1975.

It was made 40 years ago when Sikkim was an independent kingdom by legendary director Satyajit Ray.

But a private trust challenged the screening in the courts, arguing that it has sole copyright to it.

The Art and Culture Trust of Sikkim (Acts) - an organisation promoted by former Sikkim King Palden Thondup Namgyal - approached the Calcutta film festival organisers and appealed to them not to show it.

"But they were not prepared to listen and told us they screened the film at the festival on Thursday," Acts Managing Trustee Ugyen Chhopel told the BBC.

"So we filed a case of copyright infringement in the Sikkim High Court.''

The court has now issued an interim stay order on the film until the copyright infringement case is dealt with, which means that the film still cannot be screened in public.

Nilanjan Chatterjee, chief of the Calcutta Film Festival, said that the decision to go ahead with the screening was taken because they had not received any orders from the court not to do so and had not received any documents proving the copyright.

A senior West Bengal government official told the BBC earlier that if someone could prove they had the copyright for the documentary, it would have been "honoured".

Written permission

Mr Chhopel said that although Acts has exclusive copyright and other relevant permits in relation to the film, the West Bengal government had not bothered to obtain the mandatory permits before screening it.

"We want everyone to respect the law," Mr Chhopel said.

Acts is entrusted with the task of preserving ethnic Sikkimese art and culture. It says that it not only has exclusive copyright to the documentary, but also the censor board certificate and written permission to screen it from the erstwhile king.

Acts says that it has plans for a gala screening of the film in Gangtok - the capital of Sikkim - in March 2011.

The film was commissioned by King Palden Thondup Namgyal in the early 1970s.

When it was completed, the king and his wife were reportedly furious - especially over a shot that showed poor people scrambling for leftover food behind the royal palace in the capital, Gangtok.

"My father was asked to drop some shots and redo the final product," Satyajit Ray's son Sandip - also a film-maker - said. "He did that but the situation changed."

By the time the film was finally ready, Sikkim had been merged with India.

Unsure how the people of Sikkim would react to the controversial shots in the film, the Indian government decided to ban it.

"Except for a private screening by my father, the film has not been seen by anybody else," Sandip Ray said.

The two existing copies of the film are in the US and the British Film Institute.

Satyajit Ray died in April 1992 after receiving an Oscar for lifetime achievement.

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