First, a humble submission to the Honourable Madras High Court that has reportedly made an observation expressing its concern over “the unity of the country”, while hearing the arguments over Kamal Haasan’s recent film Vishwaroopam‘s ban. Since Friday, the film, in both its Telugu and Tamil versions, has been running in theatres in Hyderabad, a city with a 41 percent Muslim population. It has caused no unrest whatsoever and people have found nothing objectionable that will offend the Muslim community. Ditto in Kerala. The state with its 24 percent Muslim population has faced no problems after screening the film. Surely, cinema that is acceptable to Muslims in Hyderabad and Kerala should be acceptable in Chennai.
On a day when everyone was expecting the court to deliver a quick judgment on whether the ban should stay or not, given that the judges had already seen the film at a special screening on Saturday and had the entire weekend to mull its contents, its decision to ask Haasan to discuss the matter with the Tamil Nadu government officials is perplexing. Akin to asking the parties to strike an out-of-court settlement when the matter is before court.
Any further delay in releasing the Rs 95 crore film in Tamil Nadu would only kill its profitability. Already Mani Ratnam’s Kadal is lined up for release on February 1 and the two talented filmmakers will hardly look good jostling for screen space.
In Los Angeles for the US premiere over the weekend, Haasan joked how he had been chased out of Tamil Nadu and hence he was in America. The phrase ‘chased out’ is a slap on the faces of people who neither know to respect one of the most celebrated icons of Indian cinema nor clamp down on cultural terrorism of the kind Vishwaroopam has seen in the last week. It certainly raises suspicion whether the opposition by the Muslim groups was merely a front for other anti-Haasan interests to get back at the filmmaker.
A leading producer who spoke on condition of anonymity interpreted the developments as Haasan getting a dose of his own medicine. “For so many years, in so many films, Kamal has troubled so many producers by going overbudget, driving them up the wall. Now he must be realising what producers who worked with him must have gone through,” he said, describing in detail his own experience with him a decade ago.
Unfortunately, barring Rajinikanth, Ajith, Bharathiraaja and Prakash Raj, no other mainstream actor has come out in Haasan’s support. In their defence, filmmakers point out that when earlier this month the Tamil film industry was protesting against the service tax regulations, Kamal chose to keep away. Implying that Ulaganayagan too did not stand by the industry to expect its support in his hour of distress.
That the developments are taking place in Tamil Nadu where its chief minister Jayalalithaa, former chief minister Karunanidhi and opposition leader Vijaykanth are all from the film industry is only ironic. One may or may not find Vishwaroopam to be a great film (read review) but one cannot deny the fact that most celebrated Tamil film directors — be it Mani Ratnam, Shankar or K S Ravikumar — went a notch higher in their career after working with Haasan. To reduce such a gifted mind to be at the mercy of some “small groups”, who as Haasan says, have ruthlessly used him as a vehicle to seek political profile, is insulting to the man and his craft. “Icon bashing is a great way to be noticed when you are not one yourself,” said Haasan and it has been so true in this case.
The Central Board of Film Certification has given the film a clean chit and the government’s ban only ridicules the Censor Board’s stature. Already the success the Muslim groups have tasted with Vishwaroopam has encouraged some Hindu groups to take on another Tamil film, Aadhi Bhagavan, demanding a special screening.
It is only ironic that Haasan who has been stopped at US airports because his name sounds Muslim, is being accused of being disrespectful to the religion. It is even more ironic that a film that is entirely set in New York and Afghanistan and deals with Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorism, is accused of insulting Indian Muslims.
This entire controversy is bound to mean a financial setback for Haasan. But it will be a bigger loss to Tamil Nadu and India, if ‘Kamal’ is not allowed to bloom in his backyard.