The controversy surrounding the release of Kaththi is the continuation of a disturbing trend that started a few years ago in Tamil Nadu: Movies getting stalled because a group of people are offended. Once Virumandi proved that it was possible for small groups to make trouble for a movie, things have steadily worsened. Lawyers sue because the villain is a lawyer; doctors want movies banned if there is a bad doctor in the movie. And we all are to blame, because we just watch silently.
[quote]An attack upon our ability to tell stories is not just censorship – it is a crime against our nature as human beings – Salman Rushdie[/quote]If we stood by cheering the ban on Dam 999 because we disagreed with it, or if we thought the Madras Café ban in Tamil Nadu was justified, then the Kaththi issue is what we reap.
From TV debates to press meets, directors talk about this predicament; about how their freedom is compromised, and how it is becoming harder and harder to make a movie.
Yet they stay silent on the specifics, for fear that their movies will be targeted next.
Guess what, they will be. Because we’ve made it easy.
Produced and directed by Kamal Haasan, the film was initially titled Sandiyar. A few groups decided that the title was offensive, and demanded that it be changed. A political leader in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Krishnasamy, warned that not changing the title would lead to an outbreak of violence in the state. Kamal met the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and continued to film the movie with her support.
But as release day approached, he gave in and changed the title to Virumaandi.
Virumaandi opened to rave reviews, but the damage was done.
A video of a frustrated Kamal Haasan talking about Virumaandi.
2. Dam 999
Dam 999, a movie based on dam disasters from around the world, was banned by the Tamil Nadu government before its release due to fears that it would cause tensions between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The movie allegedly had elements that dealt with the contentious Mullaiperiyar Dam issue though the producer denied it categorically.
A peeved producer-director Sohan Roy appealed to the Supreme court on the grounds that the movie had already been cleared by the CBFC. Initially, the court ordered the government to “listen to the objections of the producer,” but it then issued a final judgement that effectively affirmed the ban, while stating that “The people are expecting this issue [of the Mullaperiyar dam] will be resolved. At this stage, why should we aggravate the situation not only in Tamil Nadu but also in Kerala? We can’t close our eyes to the objections and decide the case purely on legal aspects. We have to respect the sentiments of the people.”
Vishwaroopam, another Kamal Haasan venture was mired in controversy from the beginning. From the title to content, several political and religious groups objected to a lot about the film. Some even demanded a special screening of the movie so that they could “approve” it for release – even though the CBFC had already certified the movie. The Tamil Nadu government banned the movie for 2 weeks; and a frustrated Kamal Haasan told the media that he wouldn’t hesitate to leave the country if his liberty to make films was put at stake.
Eventually, Kamal agreed to cut a few scenes and mute a few lines and the movie was released two weeks late. It did well.
4. Madras Cafe
Madras Cafe, a political thriller set in Sri Lanka was never released in Tamil Nadu due to its perceived anti-Tamil slant. The movie, starring John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri, was not released in the UK as well, due to protests by the Tamil diaspora. There were persistent rumours that the film was funded by the Sri Lankan Government.
Even though the courts cleared the way for the movie to release in Tamil Nadu, most theaters refused to screen the film.
Actor Vijay‘s Thalaivaa was stalled a day before its release. A Mumbai-based Tamil businessman went to the courts alleging that the movie was based on the lives of his father and grandfather. Just when the issue was resolved, theatres screening the movie received bomb-threats. It took about 12 days for the controversies to recede. And when the the film was released, it failed to do well at the box-office.
Sources in the industry believe that Vijay’s political aspirations were the real reason behind the movie being delayed.
Inam, cinematographer Santosh Sivan’s directorial venture, was removed from theatres three days after its release. A political party felt that Inam insulted the sentiments of Sri Lankan Tamils vandalised a theatre where the movie was playing. Producer Lingusamy, whose production house was distributing the movie pulled the movie from theaters. ““In the interest of not creating any confusion at the time of elections, I withdraw the film—Inam. This movie will be withdrawn from all screens with effect from March 31, 2014. I make this decision despite financial losses.”
Pulipaarvai, an upcoming film directed by Praveen Gandhi is also facing trouble from several organisations. The movie dramatises the life of Balachandran, son of the late LTTE supremo Prabhakaran. A case has been filed alleging that “Pulipaarvai has scenes portraying Balachandran and other Sri Lankan Tamil kids as child soldiers.” There have also been protests by students and other groups against the movie. It is unlikely to be released as planned on Deepavali day.
Kaththi has been mired in controversy right from its launch. Minor political organisations in the state staged protests alleging that the producer of the film – Subashkaran of Lyca Productions – is a relative of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse. There are also allegations – vehemently denied by Subashkaran – that the movie is being partly funded by Rajapakse.
The producers held a press meet in the city to refute the rumours. They claimed that they could make the movie with just “2 days of their revenue” and that they did not need external sources of funding. And the CBFC awarded the film a U certificate.
That has not stopped protestors though. The latest in this saga is that Lyca has handed the movie to Ayngaran International, clearing the air for a Deepavali release. But there was fresh trouble right after, with a group of people attacking a prominent movie theater in Chennai.
(With additional reporting by Deepika Ramesh)