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Madras Café on a hot tin roof

 | August 23, 2013

Sircar and Abraham have the right to make a film which may be supportive of the Sri Lankan government.


India’s Tamil Nadu seems to be in the grip of extra-constitutional censorship. One film after another is running into rough weather.

After Viswaroopam and Thalaivaa, It is now the turn of Shoojit Sircar-directed, John Abraham starrer Madras Café.

While some Muslim groups were angry with the way their community was portrayed in Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam (though the real cause was rumoured to be something else) and delayed its release by several weeks earlier this year, it was never quite clear why Vijay’s Thalaivaa hit a roadblock some days ago.

Ultimately, the reason cited was that the Tamil Nadu Government of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa (belonging to the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam/AIADMK) did not like Thalaivaa’s tag line, Time to Lead. This was removed, and the movie is now on in Tamil Nadu.

(When I watched the film a couple of days ago, I found actor Vijay copying the dress sense and mannerisms of both MG Ramachandran (actor and former AIADMK Chief Minister) and superstar Rajnikanth. It is no secret that Vijay nurses political ambitions, and, in fact, he is reverentially called Ilayadalapathy (Junior Commander). And Thalaivaa, which means Leader, might have caused a bit of worry in the power corridors of Chennai.)

Though the original Hindi version of Madras Café has been cleared for public screening by the Central Board of Film Certification, two groups have said that they would not let the movie play in Tamil Nadu.

Seeman of Naam Tamizhar argued that Madras Café appeared like a film made by Sri Lankan President Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa. For, the movie merely maligns leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Prabhakaran. It says nothing about the brutality of the Sri Lankan army on Tamils and their freedom struggle.

Vaiko of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, another pro-Tamil party, is also for a ban on Madras Café.

Film helmer RK Selvamani said in an interview to Firstpost: “It looks like a movie funded by Rajapaksa and directed by (India’s Congress Party president) Sonia Gandhi. I respect freedom of expression, but if it is only to justify the Government of India, it is not acceptable. It depicts Tamils as murderers. It is anti-Tamil. Every shot is a lie. The very first shot is wrong. It’s an effort to isolate Tamils.”

In response, Abraham’s defence has been plain naïve. He is certainly no match for these fiery Tamil politicians or political sympathisers. Naturally, Abraham is only an actor, and what does he known about the intrigues of political machinations.

However, while I agree that cinema must be responsible, it must be, at the same time, allowed to enjoy the freedom to express its point of view. After all, India prides itself as a democracy and it must, therefore, permit all points of views to be aired.

Above all, the nation must have the ability to accept them.

Crowd censoring

Sircar and Abraham have the right to make a film which may be supportive of the Sri Lankan government (run by the island’s majority Sinhala community; Tamils form the minority race there).

Also, I must state here that I have seen movies made by Sri Lankan directors that have been openly critical of Prabhakaran and his methods, which included recruitment of child soldiers and pioneering, along with Hamas, suicide bombing. He was also guilty of killing some of those — even in his own organisation – who opposed him. These are well known facts.

Of course, Prabhakaran had a great and noble dream, of creating an independent State for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Somewhere along the way, this dream turned into a nightmare. For him and for others.

Coming back to cinema, I think it is unfair that producers, directors and actors be subjected to, what The Hindu headlines its editorial, “Crowd censoring”.

Sadly, this has been happening too often, not just in Tamil Nadu, but also in other parts of the country.

I could never understand why some Hindu nationalist outfits felt so peeved over the fact that India-born Canadian helmer Deepa Mehta was making a film on the widows of Vrindavan in the central Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. She and her team were chased out of Varanasi, where they were ready to shoot the movie titled Water.

For decades, these poor hapless old widows have led a horribly wretched existence in Vrindavan, and everybody knows about them. But who cared or cares, least of all the Hindu groups which were ready to shout and scream just because a movie was being made on the subject.

In the end, a film cannot be banned because there is a fear, perceived or otherwise, that it will cause a law and order problem. There is a clear Supreme Court ruling on this.

And the Madras High Court has not stayed the release of the Hindi version of Madras Café. (The one dubbed in Tamil is yet to be censored.) But, unfortunately, theatres in Chennai have not scheduled the movie for Aug 23, its date of opening.

It would have been prudent for Madras Café to have begun playing and to have allowed people to watch it and make their own judgment.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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