Events in the last 2 weeks proved beyond doubt that in this Kalyug, even a Vishwaroopam can be dwarfed and how! Kamal Haasan, the man who dwarfed himself 2 decades ago and played the role of a midget so well in the film Apoorva Sagotharargal (Appu Raja) wouldn’t have asked for this. This time his Magnum opus ‘Vishwaroopam’ was not allowed to show itself initially for 2 weeks in Tamil Nadu in anticipation of communal trouble – as a precaution. When have you seen any Govt. being so pro-active? What followed in the next few days dwarfed even a tense Indo-Pak one day game in terms of suspense, drama, turn of events and action. Ban, No Ban, Re Ban, Un ban, …,.. after a while it was beginning to get banal!
On the 3rd of Feb as I am writing this piece, it looks like ‘Vishwaroopam’ will see the light of the day in TN after Kamal agreed for the film to be edited by some super editors. I hope he gives them their due in the title credits! From here on, I see this setting a rather dangerous precedent. Film makers must now plan for showing their movies before hand to different fringe groups and take their blessings even after they have the censor board clearance in hand if they show something mirroring the society. Not that this is new (if you recall Maniratnam and Ram Gopal Verma showing their movies –“Bombay” and “Sarkar” to Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray and taking his nod before hitting the theatres) But this is certainly new for Chennai or other parts of India. There will be some group or other in our highly heterogeneous, populous and emotional country which will have an issue of something or other and threaten to upset the law and order situation. And imagine what would happen if that group happen to be a vote bank of the ruling party?
I haven’t seen ‘Vishwaroopam’. From what I’ve heard and read in reviews, it certainly appears that it is not the 1st movie to have dealt with the subject it has. But it is certainly the 1st to have created such a big ruckus for doing that. Could it be that Mr.Haasan’s reputation of being a rebel came in the way of any rational discourse?
Even when Kamal was threatening to take the pre-release DTH route to showcase ‘Vishwaroopam’, it was due to this rebellious streak most thought. However, I for one was convinced that the DTH bogey was a marketing ploy to oversell the film and laugh his way to few banks! Why on earth otherwise one would bet on an alternate channel which had a share of 11% of the revenues and risk the conventional channel which has the lion’s share of revenue (over 70 % )? As marketers we always feel that pursuing alternate channels of distribution is our birthright whether right or wrong! So it is perfectly legitimate and smart on the part of the “Vishwa Nayagan” to pursue a new channel in the form of a DTH première for his film to bolster revenues. But couldn’t resist asking a few questions:
- Was there a need to pursue that at the risk of your major channel that too for a film where you have admittedly bet all your assets?
- Would ‘Dell’ sell its laptops to Indian consumer today only through “E-Comm/Online” channel because that’s their global model?
- If there is no threat to the theatres and it is basically to tap the non theatre going audience – why can’t the DTH première be done after 2 weeks post the release? That audience in any case is not the one to catch first day first shows!
- Would it not have been better to have ticked off this idea 1st with a less expensive off beat movie where the risks are much lower – and call the theatre owners bluff even if they threaten to boycott?
Considering that Kamal Hassan couldn’t have afforded a boycott for this film the high investments notwithstanding, I was convinced that the DTH posturing was more a clever PR drive to drive many of us directly to theatres as soon as the movie got released. That ‘Vishwaroopamic opening’ would have helped clear all his debts and ofcourse earned him accolades. With all the visibility in the media and the hype thanks to the DTH story, I thought that Kamal was hitting the bull’s eye.
It was not to be. The hype, hoopla and the reputation of the maker brought in closer scrutiny of the content and insecurities among Muslim groups and more drama followed. As Kamal set sail to Los Angeles for a global première, his local release got spiked by the Govt. first and then by the courts. That the release couldn’t catch initially the holiday weekend of Pongal and then the longer Republic Day weekend must have been telling on Kamal. That finally as an artist he had to yield and accept for a few cuts to get the film somehow released in his home state is certainly pragmatic and a commercial compulsion. But the entire ‘Vishwaroopam’ episode has exposed the politician-business-society nexus in different avatars and is a blow to creative freedom and freedom of expression in the country. As I mentioned before, I shudder to think what will happen to films which tend to reflect society tomorrow. I can’t help recall few lines of my all-time favourite poet – Subramania Bharathi in this context:
“Nalladhoar veenai seydhae – adhai
nalangedap puzhudhiyil erivadhundoa
solladi sivasakthi – enaich
chudarmigum arivudan padaiththuvittaay”
“(I) made a noble veena
Would (I) throw it in the garbage?
Answer me oh Goddess
Why create me with a sparkling wisdom?”
P.S: That these lines look like Kamal’s lines addressed to one ‘Amma’ who is considered a Goddess in TN is purely coincidental!!!
Post update :
I posted this piece on 3rd Feb and since then as I feared look at the news flashes emanating :
4th Feb :
#Kadal update – A christian group led by a priest has filed a complaint against the film and demanded a ban on it 4 being “anti-christian”!