Indian cinema has witnessed many controversies over time. Many such movies were severely criticized initially for hurting the sentiments of Indians by depicting themes such as communal violence, political drama, homosexuality, religious conundrums and allegedly showing public figures in poor light. Eventually, the films got released and made history!
The films enlisted below made global headlines not only because of the controversies they were embroiled in, but because of the fact that despite such pre-release drama, they got rave critical reviews and many accolades at international film festivals as well!
Garm Hawa (1973)
Based on an unpublished story by Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai, this Urdu film starring Balraj Sahni and Farooq Sheikh dealt with how a Muslim businessman is torn between staying back in India, the land of his forefathers, and joining his relatives in Pakistan when India gained independence from the British colonial rule in 1947.
The film was deferred for 8 months due to fears of inciting unwanted communal violence but was eventually released and went on to win a National Award and Three Filmfare awards as well!
This political drama starring Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen features a woman politician resembling a lot like then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. The film depicted various scenes like Gandhi’s relationship with her estranged husband which is why the movie was not allowed a full release when Mrs. Gandhi was in power. The film was also banned during the national emergency of 1975 just a few months after its release.
The ban immediately made the film a national topic, but was later cleared after it deleted scenes which showed the lead actress smoking and drinking during an election campaign. This was Suchitra Sen’s last Hindi film of her career. The film was nominated for three Filmfare awards (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Film Critics Choice) and won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie.
Kissa Kursi Ka (1977)
The movie was a satirical venture on the-then administrative regime of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi’s venture into politics (read nepotism). The film got into the most controversy any Bollywood movie has had to undergo ever! Director and ex-MP Amrit Nahata submitted the film for certification from the Central Board of Film Certification in 1975 but its content was found to be overtly maligning and sensitive.
Coincidentally, India was put under emergency the same year and the film was banned during that entire period! To prevent the movie from getting released, all movie prints (including the masterprint), were confiscated and destroyed at the Maruti factory in Gurgaon.
The Shah Commission was established by Government of India in 1977 to enquire into excesses committed in the Indian Emergency and found Sanjay Gandhi guilty of burning the film’s master negative, along with V. C. Shukla, Information and Broadcasting minister at that time.
The legal case ran for 11 months and the Tis Hazari court in Delhi gave its judgment on 27 February 1979 which found the accused guilty of “criminal conspiracy, breach of trust, mischief by fire, dishonestly receiving criminal property, concealing stolen property and disappearance of evidence”. Both Sanjay Gandhi and Shukla were sentenced to a two-year prison sentence.
Bandit Queen (1994)
The biography on the life of Phoolan Devi, a notorious woman dacoit of northern India wasn’t well received for its abusive language, nudity and excessive sexual content.
The film was directed by Bafta-winner Shekhar Kapur and it went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film after its theatrical release.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Deepa Mehta, this movie was the first instalment in the ‘Elements’ trilogy. The film received immense backlash upon its release due to its concept of exploring homosexual relationships in India.
The movie’s posters were burnt, cinemas vandalized and eventually, the movie was retracted. The second movie in the series, Earth (1998 film) was released as 1947: Earth too received some protests due to its story revolving around tensions between Hindu, Sikh and Muslims during the partition era.
The movie was adjudged Best Film at the Asian Film Festival and landed the Filmfare Best Male Debut Award for Rahul Khanna.
Water was the third instalment in Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy which explored the subject of widows in an ashram of Varanasi being subject to misogyny and social ostracism. Since its topic seemed to show Indian culture in a hateful manner, many suicide threats to Mehta were issued and about 2000 right-wing activists even wrecked the film’s sets.
The movie was later shot in Sri Lanka and released under a different title called River Moon. The movie went on to win at least 15 awards globally.
Black Friday (2004 movie released in 2007)
The movie directed by Anurag Kashyap of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ fame, dealt with the issue of the 1993 Mumbai bombings. It faced a temporary ban until the verdict in the ’93 Bombay blast case was delivered by TADA court.
Due to the delay in the verdict for that case, the film was released after three years of its completion. It received multitudes of praise from both the international and national media upon its release. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and was a nominee for the Best Film (Golden Leopard) award at the Locarno International Film Festival.