Danger of losing to fringe elements
Vishwaroopam is a mega-budget movie released in Tamil, English and Hindi all over the world. One of the facts that is lost in the din for freedom of expression which is essential for a democracy to thrive is also that many of the states as well as the Centre are increasingly giving in to fringe elements who don’t number more than a few hundreds. For a state that is ruled by a chief minister like Jayalalithaa who knows the dynamics of the entertainment industry like no one else does, it is strange that the ban on the movie should come so quickly.
But what political observers fail to realise is that Jayalalithaa having been a superstar in her younger age and a chief minister intermittently for over two decades also understands the danger in letting the issue drift before there is loss of life and property.
Not very long ago former UP chief minister Mayawati had bluntly stated that her state machinery cannot come to the rescue of every citizen when a communal riot breaks out. So now in hindsight it might be easy to blame Jayalalithaa of having taken a hasty decision, but she must be having good reasons for it.
More than a week after the storm over Vishwaroopam began, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa broke her silence, defending her government's decision to ban it in her state in light of the “grave law and order” problems that the film might have created.
Dismissing allegations and innuendoes that she had political and personal motives—like Muslim appeasement before 2014 Lok Sabha elections and alleged enmity with actor-director Kamal Hasan—behind the ban, Jayalalithaa emphatically said there were “very real threats to law and order” and that her government's primary responsibility was to maintain peace.
“How is it possible for the government to provide protection to 524 theatres and maintain law and order when we do not have adequate manpower for all the theatres?” Jayalalithaa asked.
“As per the certification law, Jayalalithaa should have approached the Centre if the state had law and order concerns regarding its screening. It's the Centre that is empowered to review decision on film certification. A film can't be banned by just invoking the Criminal Procedure Code,” said a Union Minister.
Hasan thanked the CM for “her help” and ruled out going to the SC.
“Now that she (Jayalalithaa) has helped us, why should we go (to the SC)?” Kamal said. But the actor-director also warned again that he would leave India if similar protests envelop his films again.
The banning of Kamal Hasan’s movie Vishwaroopam, the statement of Ashis Nandy over new trends in corruption and the inability of writer Salman Rushdie to travel to Kolkata to promote the movie based on his book Midnight’s Children have actually reaffirmed the fact that India as a nation is still to come to grips with the modern ways of thinking that is prevalent in most of the developed world. There are also many angles which have not been explored by any political observers or art critics.
It is also a conceded fact that when it comes to threats from fringe groups belonging to some minority communities the state prefers to take quick action for the fear of large-scale violence. There are, at the same time, many religious groups who protest in a democratic way against perceived hurt and offence. This has actually led to governments at the Centre and the states appear lackadaisical and laid-back when there is genuine outrage among millions of people just because for the government violence has become the only cognisable measure that needs to be attended to.
It is amusing if not tragic that there are many Muslim leaders from politics as well as clergy who have had a chance to see the movie in a private viewing arranged by Kamal Hasan taking objections to various scenes in the movie. Vishwaroopam has claimed to be a true story and it has shown the Al Queda leader Omar Abdullah taking refuge in Coimbatore and Madurai, according to the select-few Muslim leaders who have watched the movie in private screening. But even if a movie claims to be a true story it is obviously going to be embellished for creative and cinematic purposes. Kamal Hasan has not claimed that he has made a documentary film on terrorism, in which case there should not be any song and dance in the movie. The songs in Vishwaroopam are already chart-busters. Most political observers miss the point that the Muslim politicians and religious leaders are desperate to impose their diktat on a soft target like a movie-maker or a writer or a cartoonist to prove themselves to their larger constituencies.
The travel itinerary of writer Salman Rushdie and film-maker Mira Nair in India was expectedly curtailed even as they tried hard to assuage feelings of the minority communities. Earlier Tasleema Nasreen’s visit to West Bengal was abruptly halted by the previous Left government which was feeling the heat of the ensuing elections then. If Salman Rushdie could come and stay in Mumbai’s prestigious hotel the Taj there is no reason why Kamal Hasan had to draw a parallel between his condition and painter MF Husain. The painter had chosen to stay abroad (in Qatar and the UK) willingly under the guise of being in self-exile. But no one had explained where was the threat coming from and who was responsible for that.
Finally, Ashis Nandy’s statements at the Jaipur Literary Festival about how corruption among the lower caste Hindus were getting rampant got almost a standing ovation from the Left and many in the news media as if to endorse his view. He has himself admitted that there is no empirical evidence to prove it, but to say that West Bengal has been the cleanest state in the last few decades because the Left has been ruling it without giving recourse to lower caste Hindus in the political hierarchy is truly farfetched. The two states which the Left has ruled consistently for the best part of last 50 years—Kerala and West Bengal—are caught in the throes of large-scale corruption and diversion of state machinery in acts of ruthless violence on people who don’t fall in line with the Left ideology. The best example of corruption in Kerala during the Left rule is that of suicide of an official of a Malaysian infrastructure company which was building a world-class highway near Ottapalam. The Malaysian company official could not bear the corrupt ways of getting things done under then Leftist government. After the suicide when the Malaysian company came to know of the reasons behind its official’s desperation that led to his death it wound up its operations in Kerala and went back never to return. There are hundreds of foreign infrastructure companies operating in India for various mega road, port, airport and metro projects. But never has a foreign official been driven to suicide because of the unrelenting corrupt ways and means adopted by the Left government. It is in the light of these hard facts that Ashis Nandy’s statements look misplaced and deserve to be condemned.