Yesterday was Tamil cinema's most loved comedian-cum-character actor Nagesh's 4th death anniversary. Why I am mentioning this here is also because the iconic song `Madras Nalla Madras' (Madras lovable Madras) from the 1967 K Balachander film Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi was picturised on Nagesh. Yes, the same Madras aka Chennai in Tamil Nadu that one of Nagesh's biggest fans, Kamal Haasan, declared yesterday "does not want him''.
Of course, Kamal may change his mind to relocate out of Tamil Nadu now that chief minister Jayalalithaa's government has offered to play facilitator between the actor and Muslim groups. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, Kamal will have to agree to the cuts demanded by the new Censor Board in town - the 24 Muslim organisations.
Cuts that will most likely make the Al-Qaeda look like a non-Islamic organisation. Once that is done, the 'unoffensive' Vishwaroopam should be able to release in theatres in Tamil Nadu and people can watch the film, without fear of petrol bombs being hurled at cinema halls.
Make no mistake about this. Vishwaroopam will not be the last film to go through this. If today it is Muslim groups, tomorrow it could be some other organisation claiming to espouse the cause of another religion, a community, a caste or a profession. They have tasted blood with a biggie like Vishwaroopam and this will only encourage others to go for the kill. Creative pursuits can go DTH in Tamil Nadu. Direct To Hell, that is.
The chief minister gave details of the number of police personnel at her command. Her argument being, there isn't sufficient personnel in the Tamil Nadu police to provide protection at 524 theatres (that Vishwaroopam was to release in). The next time a group wants to obstruct a film, all they need to do is to do the math and if it is in their favour, threaten to obstruct the film's release. Yes, petrol is getting expensive but blame Manmohan Singh for that.
A couple of years back, Andhra Pradesh witnessed similar protests by pro-Telangana groups who vowed to obstruct the release of films featuring Seemandhra actors. Theatres were attacked, posters torn in many district towns of Telangana, which is the most lucrative Nizam's territory for a Telugu movie. `Negotiations' happened between the protestors and the filmmakers and all was hunky-dory after that.
The ban and the war of words over Vishwaroopam is bad news for all creative artists. Worse is the state abdicating its responsibility to protect its citizens while watching a film, by citing its inability to ensure law and order as an excuse. Equally worse is the damning of the Central Board of Film Certification by the Tamil Nadu government. In its enthusiasm to be on the right side of minority groups, the state government, for reasons known best to it, spared no efforts to insult a respected institution. The Board may as well cease to function in Tamil Nadu, if it has to save some pride.
What does this mean for you and me? Simple, if this could happen to a big star like Kamal - a legend of Indian cinema - it could happen to anyone. Wearing our intolerance on our sleeve, India has become a censor board, where everyone wants to cut the other person down to size. And now, Jayalalithaa's intention to pursue legal cases against media organisations that wrote about what could have been the reason for the ban, will make every journalist think twice before writing about the CM and her party.
Madras nalla Madras?
Even though Amma says she has nothing against Kamal, it is clear that in the battle between the state and the actor, Kamal is clearly the loser. The mighty state and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa have shown that the sword is mightier than the pen. Wonder if Kamal finds it both amusing that the first song picturised on him in the 1960 flick Kalathoor Kannamma went like this : "Ammavum neeye Appavum neeye'' (you are both the Mother and the Father).