Debut director Chhatrapal Ninawe’s Marathi-language feature debut, Ghaath (Ambush), is currently in limbo.
According to a long-form disclosure via social media by Ninawe on Friday, he alleges production company Jio Studios of being “hell-bent on killing the film” fifteen months after the company sent a restraining order to the Berlin Film Festival last year, effectively killing any chances of the film’s premiere at the 71st Berlinale.
By Ninawe’s affirmation, the screening would have been a “life-changing” moment for tribal communities who aren’t ever exposed to the cinema world, especially since “ninety percent of the cast of the film is either tribal or Dalit,”. He called the move “blatant discrimination”, alleging earlier on in the post of a possible “attempt to curtail a tribal filmmaker’s voice on national and international platforms.”
Ninawe’s version of events, in accordance with screenshots he shared on his Facebook page, indicate that for the most part, he, along with Drishyam Films’ Manish Mundra and Jio Studios’ Jyoti Deshpande, worked in tandem as development and production moved onward between November 2018 and March 2019 when principal photography wrapped. Ninawe also says he worked with Jio to mitigate on certain areas of improvement during the remainder of the year as post-production pressed on between several screenings of different drafts.
Editing was long since complete when Ghaath was eventually entered in the NFDC India WIP lab in December 2020. The film won the lab award on January 22 of last year – only a day after being invited to screen for the Berlinale when suddenly on February 4, Jio Studios effectively pulled the plug on its Berlin premiere.
“I was shocked when [Mundra] told me that Jio has sent a legal restraining order to Berlinale, effectively asking them to drop the film from the selection. We sent frantic emails. I wrote to Jio clearly reminding them that film has nothing outside of the submitted screenplays. And I am open to having a dialogue. As I always was,” said Ninawe.
Ninawe called it “Kafkaesque”, asserting that final festival submissions were still a month away at the time with plenty of time to make changes and edits of footage where necessary, and so there was no real legitmate reason for Jio to pull the film. He also cited a Berlin Curator writing in part that they told him “such a thing has not happened in her career spanning 28 years, where a producer is prohibiting a festival from showcasing their own film.”
He added “I am talking to people nationally and internationally, no one knows such a case where a producer/investor/financier sabotages his own film even before realising its potential. Business-wise also, it makes no sense.”
Ninawe directed the film from a script he wrote with Vikas Mudki. The film is described as one “told through three essential elements of tribal lives: Land, Water and Jungle”, merely using Maoism (or Naxalism) as the film’s backdrop; The film focuses on a trio of arcs including an undercover Maoist as he tries to track down a police officer involved in a crime, a cop trying to secure the surrender of an Maoist Guerrilla, and a Maoist on the run from the police.
Ninawe described the pulling of Ghaath from its screening and its hampered release “the darkest part” of his life, insisting that he has waited fifteen months to date for a response from Jio through various channels, and adding “the replies were not satisfactory and muted,”.
“I was severely depressed. My dreams were shattered. When Ghaath should have been celebrated by the Indian and Marathi film industry, it was being murdered right in front of my eyes. And I could not even afford therapy.”
Ninawe eventually managed to join Berlinale Talents 2022 as one of the 200 emerging filmmakers from seventy countries. The panel discussed diversity in Cinema with a topical focus on “the film community of many,”.
“It could not have been more apt.” he said.
Ninawe has since asserted that the film would clear India’s Censor Board for Film Certification (CBFC), citing that Jio didn’t even bother applying for CBFC certification in an underhanded attempt at banning the film from its release.
He also reassured that the film neither promotes anti-Indian or pro-Maoist sentiments, nor does it disturb communal harmony or target any caste, tribe or communities. Unfortunately, neither this, nor any of the attempts Ninawe and his team have made to correspond with Jio Studios on the matter have measured up, and the company remains unresponsive to Ninawe and the team at Drishyam.
Ninawe also remains defiant in the latter end of his post, ultimately calling for Jio to release Ghaath and let the audiences decide gauge the film for themselves.
“I have decided to fight against this discrimination in whatever way possible. I demand Jio studios to release Ghaath. Let the audience watch the film and decide. If you have any “political” issues with the film, you should submit it to CBFC and let them decide. You can’t decide the fate of the film behind closed doors. Jio Studios you will not bury Ghaath, not before me.” he concluded.
A request for comment was sent out to the social media pages for Jio Studios ten hours ago as of this report. Our request went unanswered by the time of this article’s publication.