By Shruti Kesavan:
How often do we come across an Indian movie which is the first to utilize Auro 3D sound technology or the nation’s first to be released film on a Direct to Home (DTH) connection? Not very often I’d assume and yet the movie Vishwaroopam has been in the limelight for more negative reasons than positive. The movie has been written, directed and co-produced by Padma Bhushan award winner, Mr. Kamal Hasan. It is an Indian spy thriller which has been made in three languages simultaneously, namely Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. The Telugu version is a dub of the Tamil version.
Vishwaroopam, Kamal Hassan’s dream child, goes on the lines of the Mission Impossible series and is expected to earn 350 crore rupees from the music and the other distribution sources alone. The movie stars Mr Hasan himself along with other lesser-known actors like Pooja Kumar, Jaideep Ahlawat, seasoned actors like Rahul Bose and a singer cum actress Andrea Jeremiah. The movie has been extensively shot in the United States, Canada, Chennai and Mumbai.
The first official teaser of the movie was out on May Day in 2012, which was a part of their marketing strategy and was also aired as a one minute trailer in an award ceremony which saw Kamal Hasan and Andrea. The movie was set to be released on January 25th across India but did not see the light of day for many reasons some of which are mentioned briefly.
The first controversy which sparked off right with the naming of the movie was with respect to the Hindu Makkal Katchi which literally translates to the Hindu People’s Party. In June 2012, the movie makers ran into trouble with the party in Tamil Nadu, as they claimed that Mr Hasan was being anti-Tamil by naming the movie with a Sanskrit word and not a Tamil word. The same party had also opposed his previous movie on the same lines showing they have nothing against the movie but simply something against the actor himself.
The second controversy in no specific order was the decision of Mr Hasan to release the movie on the DTH connections, which would directly reach the homes of millions across the country by simply paying a menial fee of rupees one thousand. This marketing strategy was not taken well by the theatre owners as it boiled down to them standing a loss if this strategy was adopted by all movie makers as a part of their marketing gimmicks. The show was said to be aired eight hours before its release on the large screens which was scheduled on the 11th of January.
When the owners said that it was putting their money and jobs at jeopardy, Mr Hasan was quick to retort with his side of the argument which stated that the proposed fee would actually attract more audience to the theatres. This however failed to cut the ice among the theatre owners. The issue was blown out of proportion to such an extent that the intervention of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha was sought to resolve the problem. When Mr Hasan was asked about this issue in an interview on ‘The Bollywood Show’ he confidently remarked saying that there were 400 theatres which were still going to release the movie in Tamil Nadu.
If these controversies were not sufficient enough, there came the moral brigade of the Muslims protesting and creating a ruckus out of the whole issue stating that they were being portrayed in bad light in the plot. “The screening of the movie will affect the social harmony in the state. We plan to meet the Home Secretary besides moving to the Censor Board” stated M.H Jawahirullah, MLA and President of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagan. He also continued to say that the movie would affect the social harmony among the different communities and change the way people see the Muslims. Based on these allegations, the state of Tamil Nadu and many other places like Hyderabad and the UAE have banned the movie for a long time to come. The banning of the movie was also owing to the collision of the movie’s release date with the Muslim festival Milad-ul—Nabi.
If you thought that this would discourage Mr Hasan’s fans from going and watching the movie, you would have sadly been mistaken. The Tamil movie fraternity shown complete solidarity with Mr Hasan and his movie and this includes actor Mr Rajnikanth who has been Mr Hasan’s friend for almost 40 long years. He also stated that “He (Hasan) would never hurt anyone or their sentiments”.
The Madras High Court banned the movie up until another two weeks in Tamil Nadu but the fans clearly don’t have the patience to wait for so long. It was reported that the people of Tamil Nadu travelled all the way to Palghat in Kerala to watch the movie, clearly defying the ban. Fans are ready to travel as far as Kannur and the other western districts in Tamil Nadu, just to get a glimpse of the film. All this is sufficient to say that the ban is more of a political issue than anything else.
On the downside, the movie has already been released in Singapore and other regions in India on Thursday itself which triggers fears that pirated versions of the film might reach the places in which it has been banned. The movie was said to make a collection of rupees 350 crore, but the ban is to have its long lasting effect on the box office collections as well.
To conclude, a movie is a form of art which is to be watched, cherished and enjoyed. The politicizing of issues such as this only shows how democracy and the right to express are being misused for the benefit of certain individuals or communities. When movies like Shaurya and My name is Khan spoke about Muslims in the good light, they were unseen and unheard of. Movies like Bombay or even Roja were huge hits irrespective of whom they were portraying and how. Then why is this movie being questioned? Is it that huge banners are being questioned to stir communal discord as they cater to a larger audience and fan following, or is it just a source of cheap publicity?