Calling from London, British filmmaker Leslee Udwin apologized for her raspy voice and said she had not slept for four days -- since her documentary film on a fatal gang rape, “India’s Daughter,” premiered this week on the British Broadcasting Corp. and caused a firestorm. The film, which featured an interview with one of the rapists blaming the victim of the attack, was banned by the Indian government Wednesday, prompting widespread outcry over censorship.
"You'll forgive my panicked tone if you knew what I was dealing with," Udwin said. "This is a vast and huge thing to deal with. I'm standing against the might of the Indian state." But she added: "I am standing my ground for this film."
Udwin had been in India for the film’s screening, but returned to Britain on Wednesday. She said she has spent the past few days trying to help her film crew in New Delhi, where she said they are being sought by Indian police for interrogation.
The Indian government has blocked the official release of the film in India, but many have already viewed it on YouTube and elsewhere on the Web. On Wednesday, a magistrate’s court in New Delhi upheld a police complaint against the movie, which was to have debuted on the Indian cable news channel NDTV on Sunday, International Women’s Day. The government has also issued legal notices to the BBC, YouTube and Google, where copies of the hour-long documentary were posted.
Indian officials have decried the film, saying it gives a platform to a violent criminal who does not deserve it. India’s Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, has said the government would not allow anyone to “leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefits.”
Udwin said she did not make the movie for personal gain.
“I am 120,000 [British] pounds in personal debt. I took money out of my child's school account to fund this movie," she said. "Documentaries don't make money. You do them because you have something passionate to say."
Udwin said she incurred the debt during months of filming in India because she felt fervently that the story of the 23-year-old gang rape victim needed to be told, especially after the country erupted in days of protest.
"Gender equality is incredibly important for me. When I saw ordinary men and women of India protesting for my rights and your rights, I felt so moved. I felt so inspired to do my bit," she said. "Now is the time. The world is ready to listen. And that's why the protests happened. The dam has burst."
Central to the controversy were comments by rapist Mukesh Singh, who blamed the victim for her death.
Singh was among six assailants on a joyride in a private bus that picked up the young couple one night in December 2012. They repeatedly raped and brutalized the woman before casting her and her male friend out into the street. Her injuries were so severe she died later at a hospital in Singapore. The case attracted international attention and sparked widespread protests around the country against sexual violence.
Four of the attackers received the death penalty, one hanged himself in jail, and one is serving time in a juvenile facility.
In the film, Singh said the young woman, an aspiring doctor, should never have been on a bus so late at night and that she should not have fought back against her attackers.
“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back,” Singh said. “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.”
The Indian government and lawmakers have alleged that Udwin misled them about the purpose of the interviews done for the film, and they said she had earlier agreed that the film would not be used for commercial purposes. She countered that she had proper permission from authorities when she interviewed convicted rapist Singh in New Delhi's Tihar jail.
She said she wrote an "impassioned plea" to the director general of the jail, explaining that she was making a film documentary about why violence against women happens. It was then approved, she said. Prison officials have admitted that she had permission to do the interviews but say they did not get a chance to fully vet all the footage.