People in Chennai have not be able to see John Abraham’s Madras Cafe because of an undeclared ban — the theatres didn’t want to touch the movie because pro-Ealam activists and some political outfits said the film was anti-Tamil and they would prevent its screening.
Some student activists even said that they would damage the theatres if the film was shown. Producer and actor John Abraham wanted people to watch the film and decide for themselves, but his detractors were clear of that his design was to malign Tamils.
At the forefront of the campaign was actor-director-Ealam activist Seeman, director RK Selvamani and political leader Vaiko.
According to Selvamani and Seeman, the film featured Sri Lankan Tamil fighters - the LTTE - and their leader Prabhakaran as terrorists. And its main purpose was to treat Tamils as terrorists and anti-national. They even said that the film appeared to have been financed by Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But what is the real truth?
Is it anti-LTTE and anti-Tamil?
Does it feature LTTE cadres as terrorists?
It just reiterates the stand of the Governments of India and Tamil Nadu - LTTE is a terrorist organisation. It may be recalled that it was these governments which banned LTTE as a terrorist organisation, not John or the makers of the movie. LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in many other countries too.
Does it feature Prabhakaran as a terrorist?
Not really. But it does show him as an inflexible, power-hungry and undemocratic freedom fighter. What’s the fuss there? Prabhakaran himself was on record that he wanted nothing less than a separate country, when possible alternatives were on the cards, and that he didn’t believe in democracy.
Additionally, Anton Balasingham, the LTTE ideologue admitted on record that assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a mistake that his group had committed and that India should forgive them for that.
Does it whitewash the crimes of the Sri Lankan government?
Not at all. In fact, the film is only about the developments till 1987. And almost all the events featured had been either widely reported or written about. There is nothing in the film that common Sri Lankan observers do not know except the silly conspiracy plot.
Is the film about the ethnic conflict?
Interestingly, the ethnic conflict is only the background. The movie is about the assassination of Indian prime minister and how it could have been prevented. In fact, the writers and the director have a very narrow focus on the main plot and hence, perhaps consciously, avoids getting deeper into the conflict.
Does it glorify Keralites as nationalists while decrying Tamils as anti-nationals?
No. In fact, the only Indian traitor shown in the movie, a senior RAW operative, is a Keralite. The director makes it obvious too.
So whatever, the anti-Madras Cafe voices said in Chennai and elsewhere were misleading and definitely amounted to muzzling freedom of expression. It’s ironical that this tirade was led by two film-makers themselves. John Abraham was right when he said that the people of Chennai should see the movie and decide for themselves.
In fact, the movie is disappointing as a political thriller. The plot looks borrowed from one of those grand conspiracy theories that surrounded the former prime minister’s assassination. Conspiracy by who and for what?
On the other hand, the film should have been criticised for its serious lack of attention to details as well as for glamourising RAW operatives. Does India really have such guys? Wasn’t one of the reasons of the IPKF’s terrible debacle in Sri Lanka was poor intelligence? And here you have a designer-agent strutting around to save his prime minister.
In terms of ethnographic details or their blatant misrepresentation there is a lot: the Indian Tamil that people from Jaffna speak, Jaffna Tamils speaking in Hindi, the mismatch in topography and housing etc. In Sri Lanka, Jaffna Tamils, the “estate Tamils” and Tamils in Colombo speak in different dialects and they have distinctively clear socio-cultural contexts. In the film, they all speak a language that one hears in Tamil Nadu. Read more about such flaws here.
So, by preventing the release of the film in Tamil Nadu, what the hardline dissenters have done was blocking a possible debate on a poor film and a serious issue.