One suspects that the demand for banning Tenaliraman has little to do with historic authenticity.
The latest is comedian Vadivelu’s comeback venture (after a two-year hiatus), Tenaliraman, opening on April 18. Some Telugu groups were upset with the movie and moved the court seeking a ban.
But somehow Vadivelu pacified the groups and ensured that Tenaliraman would hit the screens on schedule.
Who is Tenaliraman? He is a folk hero whose tales have tickled generations of Indians, the young and the old alike. He was one of the gems in the court of Emperor Krishnadevaraya, who ruled the mighty Vijayanagar Kingdom in the 16th century. Tenaliraman may have been a great poet, but his wit and humour were what endeared him to the court, and these stories have in turn delighted those who lived after him. They still excite and fascinate.
But the Telugu groups were not amused. They alleged that the film disrespected Krishnadevaraya, and moved the Madras High Court seeking a ban on Tenaliraman.
Whether Krishnadevaraya has been slighted or not, the Central Board of Film Certification has certainly not. For, Tenaliraman had been granted a public screening certificate when the protest happened.
N Pakkirisamy, Regional Officer in the Tamil Nadu Censor Board, told the media: “Censor certificates are awarded to a movie only after detailed discussions by the committee that views it. This takes into account whether the content is respectful to the sentiments of the audience. Also, films must be viewed as an entertainment medium and there must be some freedom for the movie-maker.”
Veteran director Bharathirajaa agreed with this. He rightly said that “As creators, filmmakers and actors must have artistic liberty. Cartoonists enjoy the freedom to make caricatures of world leaders and make fun of them. Why can’t movie-makers have this as well? One of the greatest films of all time, The Great Dictator, by the legendary Charlie Chaplin, made fun of Hitler even when he was alive.”
But Tenaliraman, far from making fun of Krishnadevaraya is not even a historic representation of either the king or his reign. The movie’s producer, AGS Entertainment, explained that the film “was a piece of fiction inspired by the extremely popular folk tales of Tenaliraman, one of the gems in the Vijayanagar court who used humour to intelligently drive home morals and messages. In fact, the movie does not mention the name Krishnadevaraya at all”.
So, one suspects that the demand for banning Tenaliraman has little to do with historic authenticity. So, could the anger against Tenaliraman have stemmed from political consideration?
Whatever it be, Vadivelu’s film is the latest casualty in a deeply disturbing trend in Indian society, particularly in Tamil Nadu.
I wrote in a recent column how Tamil superstar Kamal Hassan suffered while trying to release his Viswaroopam some time ago. A few months after this, Santosh Sivan’s undoubtedly pro-Tamil work, Inam, had to be taken off the theatres even before it completed a week, because some organisations felt that it was sympathetic to the Sinhala cause.
(Sri Lanka saw a 30-year civil war between the majority Sinhala population and the minority Tamils, demanding a separate homeland. The strife ended, and the Tamils did not get what they wanted, and the Tamils in India have a strong affiliation to the Tamils on the island.)
Inam, by no stretch of imagination, propagated the Sinhala point of view. Yet, it came under the scanner.
Similarly, Tenaliraman is mere fiction, but some people wanted to derail it. Mercifully they changed their mind.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]m