Kamal Hassan now stands almost isolated, facing a possible financial ruin and in the midst of an unfeeling and cowardly fraternity.
His Rs 93-crore multi-lingual film, Vishwaroopam, has not been allowed to screen in his own home State of Tamil Nadu.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the star – who has a fan following as impressive as that of Tamil Nadu’s other legend, Rajnikanth – literally broke down. He said he was on the verge of bankruptcy, and like artist MF Hussain would be forced to leave the country.
(Hussain died in London, after being hounded out of India by radical elements, and in one of his last messages, he had expressed his desire to step on the soil of Mumbai, the city he adored.)
A brief recap about Vishwaroopam. Over the past few weeks, Kamal Hassan had found himself impeded by one obstacle after another, each seemingly more invincible than the other.
When some Muslim groups protested over what they felt was unfair to their religion in Kamal Hassan’s work, the state government under the leadership of the AIADMK Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, banned the movie for 15 days.
What followed appeared like a judicial see-saw game. The ban was lifted and restored. As quickly as it was lifted! In fact, in those brief hours that the ban was not in force, Vishwaroopam was screened in some Tamil Nadu cities, but the shows were disrupted by “hooligans”.
Kamal Hassan’s horrible plight indicates a couple of very disturbing trends.
One, the film had been certified for public screening by the Central Board of Film Certification. In a judgment some time ago, India’s apex legal institution, Supreme Court, had declared that no movie which had been cleared by the Board could be banned.
The chief of the Board, Leela Samson, wondered the other day whether the people and governments did not take the certificates issued by her organisation seriously.
She was also upset because the Tamil Nadu Advocate-General, A Navaneethakrishnan, had said during his recent arguments in court, where he was pleading for the ban, that “film certification is a very big scam which required an investigation”.
Two, there is a terrifying air of cultural terror sweeping India. The perpetrators are invariably political groups and even governments. And they are not confined to any religion.
An iconic social thinker like Ashis Nandy has been humiliated by some sections of Hindus because of a remark he made at the recent Jaipur Literary Festival as has Kamal Hassan, whose movie angered a section of Muslims. While Nandy now faces a police probe, Kamal huge financial losses.
It is clear from these two incidents that much as India brags on the world stage that it is truly a democratic nation, freedom of speech and expression appears more and more like a mirage. It is at best a farce.
What is more, the safety of an ordinary citizen is under threat. Why? Because governments often play dangerous games.
The Hindu quoted the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi, as having said that “there is a version that Kamal Hassan refused to sell the film to a satellite channel close to the AIADMK for a song…Another version is that she (Jayalalithaa) is angry with him (Kamal Hassan) for expressing his desire to see a dhoti-clad Tamil as the next Prime Minister (of India)”.
Against this background, it is hardly surprising that Kamal Hassan finds himself alone; the film fraternity has been muted in its condemnation of what is happening to Viswaroopam and its maker.
And mind you, Kamal Hassan is no small man. He is the only Indian actor to have won four national awards and 19 Filmfare prizes. He has been part of the cinema industry for over five decades, having begun as a child actor in the Gemini Ganesh-Savithri starrer, Kalathur Kannamma.
Yet, Kamal Hassan now stands almost isolated, facing a possible financial ruin and in the midst of an unfeeling and cowardly fraternity.
[Cartoon by EP Unny, courtesy of The Indian Express]
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.