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Vishwaroopam Mired In Serious Controversies Or Are They Simply Marketing Gimmicks?

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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

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?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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