The Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council (TFPC) has imposed an unofficial ban on director Karthik Subbaraj (Pizza, Jigarthanda) for his unflattering portrayal of a producer in his latest release Iraivi. The film, which was marketed as a feminist drama and stars Vijay Sethupathi and SJ Surya, released last week to mixed reviews. In the movie, a ruthless producer (played by Viji Murugan) deliberately hurts the career of an upcoming director by refusing to release his film, and meets a brutal end at the hands of the people whose career he has destroyed.
And this was enough for the Producers Council to immediately ban the director. The ban is unofficial – no red card (a formal ban) or written statement has been issued by the Council – and according to a source on the Council who wished to remain unnamed, this was a deliberate move to avoid the possibility of legal action by Subbaraj.
Subbaraj is no stranger to controversy. In mid 2014, when his second feature Jigarthanda was certified with a U/A, he resisted calls from his own producer – S Kathiresan – to make cuts to the movie to get a U certificate for the movie. U-rated movies in Tamil Nadu are eligible for a significant tax-break (some analysts peg the tax break at nearly 30% of box-office revenue). In the ensuing fallout, the release of the film was postponed several times, finally hitting the screens on August 1st of that year.
It went on to do very well at the box office, and garner great acclaim for its cast. And a National Award for its menacing baby faced villain, Bobby Simha. Meanwhile, Kathiresan vowed never to work with (the equally babyfaced) Karthik Subbaraj ever again.
Producer Suresh Kamatchi vents on Facebook about Iraivi’s portrayal of producers
Private screening arranged for members of Producers Council
KE Gnanavel Raja & CV Kumar side with the producers against Karthik Subbaraj
Urgent meeting held at the Producers Council premises
Decision taken to ban Karthik Subbaraj for life
This is the first time in recent history that the Producers Council has resorted to a ban on an artiste. Keyaar, former president of the TFPC told Silverscreen that it ‘has always been the position of the Council to look out for the best interests of the films and the artists’. “Usually, when protests like these happen, we tend to adopt a more sedate approach. We try getting both parties in a common place and get a dialogue started on how and why there are issues. If it doesn’t work, we keep trying.” In the case of Iraivi, there is no word yet on whether such a dialogue ever happened. Keyaar too remains mum when questioned about it. The fact is, after a meeting that went on for most of June 6, a decision was taken to ban Karthik Subbaraj.
Kalaipuli Thanu, the current President of TFPC says, “It was an unanimous decision to ban Karthik. This is not a ban that can be easily overturned. Even if he apologises we won’t reverse this decision. Nobody who belongs to this Council will ever produce his film. If he wants to keep directing, he has to produce them himself.”
In other words, an effective banishment of an artist for creating a fictitious character that the Council cannot stomach. Just months ago when a group of doctors had protested against Vijay Antony’s Pichaikkaran, the Council did not intervene. Neither did it do anything when lawyers threatened to file lawsuits against Santhanam for his ‘offensive dialogues’ against their profession in Deiva Thirumagal. Kamal Haasan’s struggles to get Viswaroopam released amidst much protests are legendary enough to warrant an entire Wikipedia page. If these protests did not warrant any response from the TFPC, then it’s only fair that they let the issue with Iraivi pass too. But that is not what happened. It is the larger question of double standards here that is troubling. A body made up of producers and financiers from the film industry cannot afford to make decisions with long lasting consequences at will.
The Council is also sacrificing any moral authority to question anyone offended by a movie in the future. If creating a fictional villain who happens to be a film producer is enough to ban a director, then what will the Council do when another segment of the overly sensitive Indian society decides that a film offends its sentiments?
A senior journalist, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Never ever has the TFPC taken such a swift decision. If you take into account the complaints of KE Gnanavel Raja and CV Kumar, it feels like this decision has less to do with portrayal of producers and more to do with Karthik Subbaraj’s treatment of CV Kumar. We haven’t been given the entire story yet so we must wait and watch.”
Karthik has chosen to remain silent on the proceedings so far, as has his team. But a reaction is expected soon according to a source close to the director. “We’re currently reviewing all the measures that can be taken in such a case. As soon as we’re aware of all the scenarios that can play out, we will take action.”
Curiously, CV Kumar who launched Karthik Subbaraj with Pizza is also said to be supportive of the Council’s decision. Speaking on behalf of the producer, KE Gnanavel Raja (who is one of its distributors) said that the film had brought ‘nothing but pain’ for CV Kumar. In an audio clip distributed through the instant messaging tool Whatsapp, the producer accused the director of ‘having no knowledge of the pain and struggle of becoming director in Tamil Cinema’. “Karthik Subbaraj did not assist anybody. Within six months he was signed by a producer and all of a sudden he became a director. He knows nothing of what it means to struggle in this industry. This is why he is able to take things so lightly.”
Furthermore, he also washed his hands off the film saying that he felt deep disgust for having associated himself with Iraivi. “CV Kumar released the film at such a great loss. If something happens to this film, he and his family will be in deep trouble. All of this is because of Karthik Subbaraj. He promised to complete the film within 7 crores but went over budget. CV Kumar stood by the film until its release only because of the affection he had left for Karthik, who he had introduced. ”
CV Kumar’s decision to support the Council’s decision is striking, because as the original producer of the film, he should have had prior knowledge of the scenes and characters in Iraivi. Kumar has a reputation for being a producer who likes to be involved in the creative side of filmmaking, and it is strange that he did not choose to voice concerns during the 2 years that Iraivi was under production. That he chose to air his grievances now – and through a surrogate – is a sign that there is more to this controversy than meets the eye.
Late reaction, says a member of Iraivi’s crew.
At the time this article was published, Karthik Subbaraj had still not made any statement and was unavailable for comment. The Producers Council remains defiant over its stance.