The silence of the talk-show jingoists and online hyper-patriots on Kamal Hassan is intriguing. Television anchors seeking the resignation of chief ministers at the drop of a hat have been surprisingly quiet ever since the controversy broke out. There have been no questions on the degree of culpability of the state government and the chief minister heading it and none on the role of communal groups stalling the release of the movie Vishwaroopam.
Perhaps, because the subject is not Narendra Modi or Hindutva or politics. An anguished actor contemplating to quit the country after being hounded from several quarters is, after all, a small matter, at least smaller than a minister committing a faux pas during a public meeting. It is interesting too that the film fraternity in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere has largely been muted in its reaction to the developments.
How come Kamal Hassan is nobody’s responsibility? Are cultural icons in the country nobody’s responsibility?
The sense of hurt in Kamal Hassan’s utterances today was telling. Here’s a man with enormous contribution to Tamil cinema in particular and Indian cinema in general over the last 50 years pleading for justice and fairness, which he always felt were his natural due as a citizen of the country and as a towering cultural figure. The part where he says he might shift base to another country may be an emotional outburst of a man feeling wronged, but even the fact that the thought crossed his mind should shame all of us.
Of course, most of us don’t care. When celebrated painter MF Husain left the country after being hounded out by the right wingers, hardly anybody gave a damn. There was politics over him and some familiar noise of disapproval but finally he was abandoned to his fate by the political class and others. When he died abroad pining for a last barefeet walk in Mumbai, the city he loved, the sense of collective guilt was conspicuous by its absence.
Nobody was ashamed then, there’s no reason why someone would feel sorry for Kamal Hassan. Cultural icons, in effect, are second rate citizens in the country, exposed to the whims and fancies of any group with ideologically blinkered views. Their imposing intellect might win them respect, but it never fetches them friends who matter. Would the actor be in a similar predicament if had powerful political friends? Obviously not.
His plight reveals one disturbing trend in the country. Too much of censorship has crept into our lives. It is being imposed if not by the ruling entities wielding power at the top then by private groups associating themselves with identities. There are vicious efforts to curtail intellectual freedom everywhere. By extension, it also means curtailing individual freedom. The controversy involving Ashis Nandy’s comment on corruption is a case in point.
We are creating a world that is increasingly being impatient with nuances and context. The media in hunt for eyeballs and sensationalism have virtually abandoned their role as the intellectual bridge between the thought leaders and the man on the street. The matter has been aggravated by courts involving themselves in every issue. In case of Vishwaroopam, the court had no business interfering when the Censor Board had cleared the matter. As this piece is being written the Madras High Court has stayed the release of the movie for some more days. Consider the loss to the producer of the more than Rs 90 crore movie.
The state was not playing its role by playing it safe. Had it been tougher on the protesters in the beginning itself, maybe the film would be in theatres by now and Kamal Hassan a smiling man. The film fraternity which wields considerable clout in Tamil Nadu has also decided to wait and watch. Clearly, there are failures on multiple fronts.
The problem nobody realises is, if it is Kamal Hassan’s movie today, it could be some other movie tomorrow. If protesters of all kinds are allowed to run loose, there won’t be any end to it.
For now, let’s feel sorry for Kamal Hassan.