Someone should now be asking superstar Kamal Hassan what his “rashee” is.
“Viswaroopam” – which he has acted in, directed and scripted – has been facing one speed-breaker after another. The latest comes in the form of a ban on the film for two weeks by the Tamil Nadu government, headed by the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa.
“Viswaroopam” – which was all set for a worldwide opening on Jan 25 – cannot be screened in Tamil Nadu, according to a notification issued by the Police Commissioner, S George. The state administration felt that the screening of the movie could lead to a law and order problem all over Tamil Nadu.
The decision was taken apparently to pacify Muslim groups, which said that the film showed the religious community in poor light. The ban came after representatives of 24 Muslim groups under the banner, Federation of Islamic Movements, met the Tamil Nadu Home Secretary on Wednesday.
Interestingly, the ban was ordered on a day when the Madras High Court ruled that the state government had no power to prohibit plays or insist on prior police permission to stage them.
A few years ago, a similar ban on the movie, “Da Vinci Code”, was struck down by the High Court. The step was supposedly taken after Christian groups had raised objections.
However, the court upheld the ban on “Viswaroopam”, after Hassan’s lawyers filed a petition against the state government order.
For Hassan, the dark clouds – which first gathered some weeks ago when producers, distributors and exhibitors refused to screen “Viswaroopam” after he had decided to premiere the film on television – do not seem to be moving away.
Hassan was forced to retreat then. He agreed to have the television screening a week after theatrical release on Jan 25.
Boon for pirates
Unfortunately, Hassan and the others lost precious revenue when the movie could not open on its originally scheduled date, which was just a few days before the Pongal Festival. In Tamil Nadu, this is a big event with schools, colleges and offices being closed – facilitating people to throng cinemas.
The current two-week ban could prove to be a major disaster, because the film is all set to open the world over except in Tamil Nadu on Friday. This is bound to be a boon for pirates, and there is every possibility that illegal discs of Viswaroopam will flood the market in the next few days.
In fact, the plan to premiere “Viswaroopam” on television was opposed also because it was feared that it would lead to piracy, heavily cutting down on theatrical collections.
But why was “Viswaroopam” banned for 15 days? We can only guess in the absence of any clear answer.
Be that as it may, India calls itself a liberal democracy, but just about every other month, there are attempts to throttle free speech or expression of artistic ideas.
With the Jaipur Literary Festival kicking off on Thursday, protests have already begun. Muslim and Hindu groups have warned that they would disrupt the fair if the authors who had last year read out passages from Salman Rushdie’s still-banned-in-India novel, “Satanic Verses”, were allowed to participate.
The Hindu groups are upset that some Pakistani authors are to arrive in Jaipur.
Last year, the fair was enveloped in an ugly controversy when Rushdie was invited. Ultimately, he decided not to attend the literary meet when death threats were issued against him.
Unfortunately, India had allowed its fundamentalists to even chase away an artist as renowned as MF Hussain, who had to then take refuge in Dubai and London. Sadly, he died in London without, as he himself had rued, savouring the smells, sounds and sights of his beloved Bombay.
Indeed, what a shame that art in India is often fettered.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.