A rapist in a brown and white check shirt staring impassively at the camera, speaking soto voce that Nirbhaya, the victim of the December 16, 2012 gangrape, had asked for it. A 57-year-old British film producer and actress Leslee Udwin who shot him inside Delhi’s infamous Tihar Jail is crying that the Indian government has banned her documentary India’s Daughter and muzzled freedom of expression. A missing film producer named Anjali Bhushan. A newborn film company named Tathagath under whose banner Udwin produced the documentary and has left no traces of its existence. The funder of India’s Daughter, Tribeca Film Institute which is financed by the Ford Foundation, a body under the scanner of Indian agencies for funding PRS’s Lamp Scheme in India. A carefully constructed web of film companies whose presence fade in and out as if through the lens of a camera. Behind the outrage on the social media and the anger of columnists and editorial writers over the ban of the documentary lies a story of deception, circumvention of rules and a host of missing links that suggest that Leslee Udwin’s story is not just what it seems to be—a gift to India.
The storm broke after February 27, when the BBC magazine carried an item about the worldwide release of the film, announcing the contents, including an exclusive interview by one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh. A crew numbering four to five people shot interviews of the gang-rape convicts inside Tihar Jail in October 2013 after being granted unhindered access for six to seven days by jail authorities. Mysteriously, the arrangements were fixed by an unknown Gurgaon-based photographer who “happened to know” some jail officials.
THE LADY VANISHES: “Dig deep and you will find a scoop behind the making of India’s Daughter”, claims an intelligence officer involved in the probe into the making of the documentary. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on March 4 had assured Parliament that the government will inquire into the matter. He also clarified that the Tihar Jail authorities gave permissions for the shoot to Udwin and Anjali Bhushan. While Udwin, owner of Assassin Films, last week appeared on all major TV channels crying foul over the ban and hogging the international limelight, Bhushan through whom Udwin got permission to shoot inside Tihar is missing from the film’s credit roll.
Indian government rules state that a foreign filmmaker is not allowed entry inside an Indian prison. An MHA official, probing any violation of contract in the filming of India’s Daughter, claims Leslee partnered with an Indian co-producer to circumvent the rule and gain access to the jail premises.
A tale of tricks of the trade
■ The producers didn’t take requisite approval before telecast
■ Filmmakers were asked not to release/screen the documentary till it is approved by the authorities but premier date was fixed without getting the necessary permission.
■ Did Leslee apply for documentary filmmaker visa under Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920, and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1992?
■ She used only Mukesh Singh’s byte and not of other convicts.
■ Investigators claim the film was made for commercial benefit rather for social study as originally claimed by the filmmaker while seeking permission for interview.
■ Investigators probing the role of ‘Tathagat films’, the Indian partner of Leslee Udwin’s Assassin Films.
India’s Daughter: Frame by Frame
- July 24, 2013: Home ministry grants permission to Leslee Udwin and Anjali Bhushan to shoot a documentary inside Tihar Jail
- Oct 7, 2013: Consent letter of December 12 gang-rape convict taken
- Jan 9, 2014: Udwin receives funding from Worldview. The grant is announced jointly for Udwin’s Assassin Films Ltd (UK) and Bhushan’s Apricot Sky Entertainment (India).
- April 7, 2014: Tihar Jail authorities detect violation in permission conditions for shoot and a legal notice is served. The notice to Leslee asks her to return the unedited footage within 15 days and also not to show the film as it violates the permission conditions.
- May-June 2014: Documentary is shown to jail authorities where it is noticed that the film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory. The filmmaker is requested to provide full copy of the unedited film for further review by the authorities and that they are asked not to release/screen the documentary till it is approved by the authorities.
- June 10, 2014: Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund is awarded to Udwin for India’s Daughter.
- Feb 27 , 2015: BBC Magazine publishes curtain-raiser on India’s Daughter highlighting rape convict Mukesh Singh’s interview and schedule of world premiere on March 8
- March 3, 2015: Uproar in Parliament, Delhi Police registers FIR under Section 509 (outraging the modesty of women) and Section 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of trust) of the IPC.
- March 4, 2015 : Protest by lawmakers in Parliament forces government to ban the film. Google and YouTube are asked to remove the links.
- March 4, 2015: BBC and some other channels in Europe advance telecast of the documentary by four days.