India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has issued an A (adult) certificate to Ashvin Kumar’s Kashmir-set documentary Inshallah, Football, which its director and producer say effectively blocks its release in India.

The board said the decision was taken because “the film has characters talking about graphic details of physical and mental torture that they had to undergo. The theme of the film is mature and some dialogues can be psychologically damaging for a non-adult audience. Therefore, A certificate is granted.”

Kumar and the film’s producer Giulia Achilli said they felt the decision enabled the CBFC to deal with a difficult film without “attracting the controversy that an outright ban would produce”.

They also describe the decision as “financial death” for the film as it’s unlikely a distributor will spend p&a on a film that has an A certificate. It will also be effectively banned from TV broadcast which limits its exposure to a DVD release. The A rating is usually given to films featuring excessive violence or sexual content, or films that could cause religious disharmony.

Kumar, who previous credits include Oscar-nominated short Little Terrorist and eco-thriller The Forest, said: “They have awarded an ‘A’ certificate to the truth. The CBFC have just made it illegal for us to show the film to the footballer boys who feature in the film….by the actions of CBFC it appears that it is more interested in avoiding potential legal suits than doing its job.”

Achilli added: The CBFC verdict is as harmful as an open ban, if not more. An open ban doesn’t leave any room for misinterpretation and disguise; it’s an immediately identifiable stance, whereas here we’re being repaid with plain hypocrisy.”

The film, which received its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2010, follows a young Kashmiri soccer player who gets an opportunity to train in Brazil, the motherland of his hero Pele. However he is denied a passport by the Indian government because his father was a resistance fighter.