Another Kollywood film faces the music

19 Aug,2013


By Sangeetha Kandavel


In January, high drama preceded the release of actor Kamal Haasan’s magnum opus Vishwaroopam. The movie was initially stalled, following protests by Muslim groups that were concerned about the portrayal of their community. ‘Vishwaroopam’ did release eventually, but not before a nervy period of protests and a showdown that the actor had with the state government.


Cut to the present, where another high profile actor is going through what Haasan had gone through just seven months ago. The Vijay-starrer Thalaivaa (which means leader), made at a budget of Rs 60 crore, has been stalled. But the comparison ends there.


For, unlike during Vishwaroopam, the state government has said it has got nothing to do with the stalling. Thalaivaa was blocked after a little-known group calling itself Tamil Nadu Oppressed Students Revolutionary Force threatened theatres and multiplexes in the state.


“It’s a complete mystery,” a trade analyst, wishing anonymity, points out. No names of theatres that have received these threatening messages have been disclosed. The police also seem to have washed their hands of this issue. The Thalaivaa team has also been denied permission to protest. So, what’s happening?


Nobody has a clue. In Tamil Nadu, no one with stakes in this issue wants to throw light on it. There have been no statements from either the directors’ union or the producers’ council. Those in the movie business don’t want to talk on record, as rumours rule the roost. “We cannot speculate anything. There is no transparency,” says C Lakshmanan, assistant professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.


The Politics-Movies Link

What the issue has managed to highlight once more is the film industry’s unhealthy dependence on the government, a fallout of how the world of movies and politics interact seamlessly here.


“Tamil Nadu has an established history where film and politics cannot be separated. Either the state should come out clearly or the film producer or actor should explain what the exact problem is,” says Mr Lakshmanan.


That’s why getting the administration to back the movie’s release seems to be the only way out for Thalaivaa. But Vijay and producer Chandraprakash Jain, who says he will come to the streets if the film doesn’t get released soon, haven’t been able to meet chief minister J Jayalalithaa till now.


Vishwaroopam didn’t start a trend. Back in 1973, actor-turned-politician MG Ramachandran faced the heat in trying to get his movie Ulagam Suttrum Vaaliban released. Closer to date, the movie Dam 999 was banned by Tamil Nadu, in the backdrop of the Mullaiperiyar dam dispute between the state and Kerala. Kamal Haasan even had to change the title of one of his movies, which later became Virumandi, after protestors of a particular caste alleged that the original title was a derogatory reference.


The film industry-politics links are that strong in this part of the world. Five of the state’s chief ministers, including Jayalalithaa and arch-rival M Karunanidhi, have emerged from the film industry. Even Opposition leader Vijayakanth is an actor. The government machinery controls the movies business in different ways.


Unlike in any other state, there’s a cap of Rs 120 on theatre tickets, with a row of seats to be offered at Rs 10! The rule was brought in by Karunanidhi and hasn’t been changed by Jayalalithaa. Tamil Nadu used to give entertainment tax exemption depending on whether a movie has a Tamil title or not. Now, the markers used for tax sop qualifications are a bit fuzzy. Thalaivaa, which got a U certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification, didn’t pass muster with the review panel of the Commercial Taxes Department. Reasons:  violence as also use of a lot of Hindi and English, according to media reports.


For the industry, the stakes are so high that they rather not mess up their relationships with the government. The Tamil language film industry, also known as Kollywood, is one of the biggest regional language industries in India. In 2012, it churned out some 150 films. Though small-budget movies have ruled the roost recently, big-budget, mass hero films are still a big draw.


Vishwaroopam was one such. So is Thalaivaa. What makes the issue intriguing is the fact that the movie lead-stars Vijay, a popular actor who is said to have political ambitions. Vijay, who made his debut about two decades ago, was one of the few high-stakes film personalities who took a stand against the earlier DMK-led government.


During the elections in 2011, he threw his weight, and that of his numerous fan clubs, behind Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK. The name thalaivaa does have a political ring to it but its makers have denied it has a political message. Film historian Theodore Baskaran says, “Such incidents indicate the fact that the film industry is not functioning independently. This is not a healthy sign.”


He likens the situation to one that existed during the freedom struggle when the British censored any topic that related to social issues — labour, poverty and freedom struggle. “During that time, producers and director made more movies on mythology. A similar trend will happen in Tamil Nadu cinemas too if this continues. It will curb the growth of cinema as a creative art form.” Even if Thalaivaa, which released in markets outside Tamil Nadu, miraculously gets released this second at home, the question will still remain: what happened?.


Source:The Economic Times

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