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Monday, February 4, 2013

Movie Vishwaroopam: A Frightening Case Of The De Facto Censors!


This has been just another example of the growing intolerance in the country against even creative expressions of various sorts. Let it be books, paintings, movies or music some groups or individuals may not like your work or even hate it so much that apart from blacklisting of your work you may have to be on the run for your dear life. We have talked earlier in these pages about the plight of MF Husains, Salman Rushdies and the like. Movie Vishwaroopam puts the focus yet again on this intolerance, more ominously Cultural Terrorism or Cultural Taliban-ism of India.

Originally in Tamil language, movie Vishwaroopam is written, co-produced and directed by Kamal Hassan, one of the finest cine actors ever produced in India. He also features as the main lead of the film. Vishwaroopam was scheduled to release in Kamal’s home state of Tamil Nadu on 25th January, 2013. But few people belonging to fundamentalist Muslim organizations did not like it and called it insulting to tenets of Islam. The state government of Tamil Nadu citing law and order issues banned the movie promptly. Law and order being a state subject the central government can hardly interfere in that and if that particular state government is outside of the ruling coalition at the centre the scenario is bound to be the worst.

Brilliant performer and ever sensitive artiste that he always is, Kamal Hassan could never accept this lightly and his immense hurt showed in everything he uttered and did subsequently. He petitioned in the high court, appealed to people, the film fraternity, and governments and also threatened to leave the country if the stalemate continued. The film fraternity including Bollywood prominently came to his support and several front-line Muslim actors and artistes who had seen the movie said that there was nothing objectionable for Muslims. The Hindi version Vishwaroop released on 1st February in India and there were absolutely no problems anywhere. The movie has done good business and has got critical acclaim too. But the artiste had to show his work to his own people. Meanwhile the movie has become a raging national debate with the most vociferous being people who have not seen the film.

On Saturday, the 2nd of February, Kamal Hassan started negotiations with the objecting Muslim groups. Finally he agreed to seven cuts on his movie and by Sunday decks were cleared for its release in Tamil Nadu, most probably on Thursday the 7th February.

The most frightening part of the Vishwaroopam controversy is that the movie got censored again after it was viewed and unanimously cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which has been the premiere censorship authority in India since 1951. The CBFC has also dismissed allegations from certain quarters that the censoring process was lacking in totality. Now an officially certified film got into trouble from certain objecting individuals and the producer-director has in fact agreed to cuts despite getting a clear certificate from the CBFC. This has raised crucial questions about the authority of the censor board and about how to deal with the de facto censors. Kamal Hassan too cannot be blamed squarely for agreeing to the unofficial cuts because he had his business and his home territory to be deeply concerned about.

Sensible people of the country must get their thinking-act together to ensure that the Vishwaroopam controversy does not become a frightening precedent. Intolerance or cultural terrorism must be stopped at any cost.

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