“Punjab ’95,” a potentially incendiary drama that was due to premiere as a gala presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival, has been removed from the lineup.
The film is “a compelling story based on the life of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra,” per producer RSVP and the festival described the film as telling the story of Khalra “uncovering murderous corruption during Punjab’s period of insurgency” in social media posts.
Any mention of the film has disappeared from the festival website. The festival had not responded to a request for comment from Variety at the time of going to press. RSVP declined to comment.
In June 1984, the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an army operation against militants at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a holy location for Sikhs, that was criticized by many in the community. In October, Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her, leading to anti-Sikh riots across northern India. During that time, the police were empowered to detain suspects. Khalra investigated the cremation of 1000s of unidentified bodies in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
In 1995, Khalra disappeared and six police officers were arrested for his kidnap and murder in 2005.
The film was originally titled “Ghallughara,” a historic term used to refer to the massacre of Sikhs in 1746, 1762 and 1984. When RSVP applied for certification from India’s Central Board of Film Certification in late 2022, the process took six months. The film was cleared with 21 cuts and a change of title to “Punjab ’95.” RSVP appealed the decision in the Bombay High Court. The decision is pending.
A source told Variety that there are political forces at play in the film being pulled from Toronto. Canada has the second largest Sikh population in the world after India.
“Punjab ’95” is directed by Honey Trehan who previously made 2020 Netflix thriller “Raat Akeli Hai.” The cast of “Punjab ’95” includes popular musician and actor Diljit Dosanjh (“Jogi”), Bollywood star Arjun Rampal (Busan winner “The Rapist”) and Suvinder Vicky, known for Cannes title “The Fourth Direction,” Venice selection “Milestone” and recent Netflix hit series “Kohrra.”
The news was first reported by Screen.