Kollywood producer Ashok Kumar's suicide highlights harassment from financiers, loan sharks

Sreedhar Pillai

Nov,22 2017 11:57 00 IST

The suicide of producer Ashok Kumar on Tuesday, 21 November 2017, has shocked the Tamil film industry (colloquially known as Kollywood). The cousin of noted filmmaker Sasikumar, Ashok served as his production manager and also looked after the former's finances. In a two-page suicide note he left behind, Ashok cited pressure from the industry's leading financier N Anbuchezhian as his reason for taking the extreme step.

Ashok (43) was found hanging in his residence on Tuesday evening, even as his Sasikumar-starrer Kodi Veeran was slated for release on 30 November. In his suicide note, Ashok wrote: “For seven years he (Anbuchezhian) charged exorbitant interest rates on a previous loan. However, over the past six months, he took to harassing the women and elders in our family." Ashok alleged that the financier had connections in the police force, and enjoyed political support as well. He further wrote that it hurt him to see the strain Sasikumar too was put under as a result of his (Ashok's) financial mistakes.

Ashok Kumar said he was ending his life because of threats to the women and elders in his family from film financier Anbuchezhiyan

Ashok Kumar said he was ending his life because of threats to the women and elders in his family from film financier Anbuchezhian

Sasikumar had earlier filed a complaint with the police against Anbuchezhian. Police have reportedly formed a special team to nab those found to have abetted the suicide and an arrest is expected to take place by Wednesday evening. Vishal, the president of Tamil Film Producers Council, issued a statement that read: “Devastated to hear about the sad demise of Ashok Kumar, who sacrificed his life, succumbing to pressure created by financiers. It’s time we put an end to such financiers, who harass producers and conduct Kattapanchayats."

Anbuchezhian is one of Kollywood's biggest financiers and has political connections that cut across party lines. He had previously been arrested on charges of usury but was later released. There's a widely-held belief in the industry that pressure from Anbuchezhian was behind the suicide of Mani Ratnam's older brother — the late G Venkitaeswaran — as well. It will not be easy to frame charges against Anbuchezhian  as many important actors and producers in Kollywood get their funding from him.

The problem is that Kollywood is mainly funded by unscrupulous “blade financiers”, who use the third degree to get back their high interest payments and the interest-on-interest not paid. Unless institutional finance is provided, for many Kollywood filmmakers there is no escape from the clutches of these mafia financiers. G Dhananjayan, a producer, says: “Institutional finance was there till 2015. However, today the situation as far as film finance is concerned, is grave. Some unscrupulous producers have messed it up. The only option is to make a film with our own money with limited outside borrowing — or don't produce at all!”