Friday, January 25, 2013

Vishwaroopam- Why the entire fiasco can't be a really staged one

First and foremost all the points expressed here are my own view and they might not necessarily be correct (Well there goes my credibility). This is just my understanding of the situation (or misunderstanding) and they are not intended to hurt anyone or any religion (Why did I have to say that? Oh yeah..don't wanna be banned). Also smoking is injurious to health (ugh...doofus!)

Vishwaroopam- The legendary actor, Mr. Kamal Hassan's latest movie is creating great waves in the country...So much so that there are more tweets about the movie, than for more pressing issues like the refusal of the Americans to extradite David Coleman Headley (the man who was crucial for the staging of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008) to India, a country where the terror attack had occurred and the nation that had lost close to one fifty odd sons and daughters to the incident. (That's a tale for another day)

However Vishwaroopam is not being spoken for the hard work having been done my Mr. Kamal Hassan the director, the actor, the screenwriter, the dancer, the singer and the producer (under his brother Chandra Hassan's name) or the ensemble cast (Which includes names of high repute, including Shekhar Kapur, Nasser, Rahul Bose, Andrea and Pooja Kumar) or the various multinational technicians involved. It is being spoken for the apprehensions it has created in the minds of some Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu.

Now it is not fair to take sides on such an important issue, but the point made by the Muslim groups is that the movie seems to have certain scenes where the terrorists are depicted as Muslims wearing attires associated with our Islamic brothers, for doing Namaz and chanting 'Allah Hu Akbar' before committing brutal killings. They believe that such depictions would make people in the future to think that all Muslims are terrorists. Now that does seem like a fair point.

I haven't seen the movie personally so I can't say that such scenes are present there in the movie. But I'll take the words of my dear Muslim brothers. Now let us analyse these scenes a little. First and foremost let us be honest and agree to the fact that the terrorists in the Af-Pak region under the name of Taliban are indeed Muslims or people who have portrayed themselves to be staunch muslims, fighting a holy war (Jihad) in the name of God. This is a known fact, no arguments on this whatsoever. Islam in truth is a religion of peace and brotherhood, nobody can deny this as well, which makes it clear that Taliban is misunderstanding their own religion and fighting the world believing themselves to be doing good.

Everyone is aware that not all Muslims are terrorists. If we are to brand all muslims as terrorists based on the acts of few individuals who killed and bombed places all over the world, then we should also take into account the millions of Muslims who work in the army, as firefighters, as doctors, rescue workers, policemen all over the world, who give their everything to help the people around. How is it fair to forget the goodness of these millions and take the actions of few 'misled' men to brand all muslims as terrorists? Now we are all aware of this and we as citizens of India respect muslims all around. We are not fools to be misled by a movie. Trust your fellow countrymen a little more.

As for the movie, Kamal Hassan has portrayed this particular group of individuals who kill people having misunderstood their religion. This is a reality. Just because it might be misinterpreted to be offensive, the director cannot portray a terrorist from that region to be a Jew, Christian, Hindu or a Buddhist. Then one can question the logic of it all. If we are to make a movie about the British Raj in India, some Englishmen will be portrayed badly. What would we do, if everyone from England started getting offended and say that it will destabilize relations between India and England?

So I would request my Muslim brothers who are protesting to allow the release of the movie. We all know there are good men and bad men in all religions and communities and only the bad men are being portrayed here. Some have argued that they are protesting to stop communal harmony from being destroyed. But look what has happened now. By depriving the right for us commoners to watch the movie, they have also invoked many people to question as to how these individuals belonging to these parties and particular communities can decide that the movie is not watchable to the rest of the public. These protests can actually cause rifts and disharmony between Muslims and non-Muslims. So the attempts to stop chaos, must not lead to its birth.

Some have even questioned as to why Mr. Kamal Hassan had made a special screening for the members of these Muslim groups, if he had not intended to hurt them. Well they had shown discomfort regarding the film, based on it's trailer well before the announcement of the date of release and Kamal Hassan obliged out of respect for these groups and screened them the movie, hoping they would understand the content. But it had backfired and I would not blame Kamal Hassan for that. He had done what needed to be done.

Now I also hear people saying that it might all be a publicity stunt by Mr. Kamal Hassan. I would lie if I say that I hadn't thought the same. But some more analysis will tell how this can't be all staged by the legend himself. Firstly, the movie has been postponed quite a lot and just a day before it's release the movie has been banned on the request of some groups. The first three days are the most crucial period for any movie. This is no ordinary movie and it has been made using Crores and crores of rupees. A large number of audiences from across the world, have to see this movie for a longer period of time for Kamal to even retrieve the invested money. By putting the ban on the movie, I am quite sure that Kamal would endure Crores of loses every single day of postponement. Now that is a big blow.

Added to this is the problem of number of screens that he can acquire to show this movie. This week had no big releases and he had (as some say) close to five hundred screens in Tamil Nadu alone. Now in the coming weeks, he can't be expected to have as many screens to show his movie, as he will have competition from other highly anticipated movies like Mani Ratnam's Kadal (Tamil and Telugu versions), David (Tamil and Hindi versions) and Race 2. Definitely Vishwaroopam will have the number of screes showing it reduced by at least a couple hundreds than what it was this weekend (if the movie had released). Now that is a another big blow.

The later the theatrical release happens, the later the DTH release will happen (or else the rift between the distributors and DTH companies would once again emerge if released on the same day). Since the movie is being released in a scrambled manner across different parts of the world, we can also expect pirated versions of the movie to appear online. If that happens, the number of people who would go to the theatres to watch the movie will get reduced. There aren't many people who would prefer to enjoy the movie in all it's glory on a large screen, with fellow fans with the new Auro 3d sound technology. (Their loss). They just want to watch the movie and they would do so on a pirated version too, not knowing that the hard work of a whole lot of people will go down the drain and they need the people's support to give more quality movies.

If there are pirated versions of the movie coming online for free or for fifty rupees in road side illegal shops, who would pay thousands of rupees to watch it in DTH? More losses for Kamal. Then there is the problem of apprehension from the audiences. Even the die hard Kamal fans would be frustrated by now with the movie getting postponed week after week after week. I've already done at least three countdowns only to start an agonising fourth one again. Not everyone would book right away once they come to find out that the bookings are open. They would want to wait to see if the movie goes through any further drama and if everything gets settled, meaning once again fewer people would watch the movie in theatre right away. Losses for Kamal again. Not to forget the fear of some unruly group threatening to disrupt the movie through violence, if the High Court does approve of the movie. This fear will trouble a lot of audiences, theatre owners and distributors alike. So to stage it all for pure publicity, Mr. Kamal Hassan must be a really foolish man, which I believe he is not.

Now for the act of the government. The government fears that there might be communal problems because of the misinterpretation of the movie and the Republic day being a particularly vulnerable period for our country, one can understand their action to a certain extent. But the correct term for the action should have been temporary postponement and not absolute ban. The government did declare that the movie will be delayed by fifteen days, but we also saw the term 'ban' in so many channels, which sent a wrong message. Freedom of speech can never be taken away from any individual and it is true that the right to express oneself must be exercised cautiously. We call ourselves a democracy and banning a movie deprives us of the reason to call ourselves a democratic country. You can't have the title till you do what is necessary to keep that title.

If the government does fear disharmony then their focus should not be on banning the movie, but on stopping these groups that threaten to protest. Despite some Muslim groups claiming that they are acting peacefully and legally, we do hear news of some problems occurring in some theatres. Such law breakers must be arrested and made an example of no doubt. That reminds of me another important issue that needs to be addressed. These certain groups have filed petitions and have made the government ban the movie. I have already explained the consequences of the postponement of the movie. Losses for the filmmakers, fears and apprehension for distributors, theatre owners and audiences and the makers of other films waiting to be released in the coming weeks, also being affected in some way, so many people have to endure so many problems. All these have happened because of the misunderstanding of certain individuals. I saw some people in some forums raising this very important question. They asked if the High Court does approve the movie and say there is nothing offensive or derogatory to any community, will the ones who raised the issue in the first place, be made to compensate for the losses of so many people? That is for you readers to decide.

Finally I like to make one important point. Despite our country been given such talents, such diversity, such traditions, culture, which can act as inspiration for great stories, our various film industries have been churning out pretty ordinary flicks that we might even get ashamed to show to the outside world. I can understand the situation of the filmmakers. They try to make good movies, but they do not run well and they have to make a movie with silly stunts, irrelevant dance sequences, absurd illogical plots just for the people to see it as plain entertainment. Films are not just about entertainment, there is more to it. How many films that have been made in the past fifty or sixty years can we proudly show to the outside world? I can give out five or six names in the Tamil film industry, who have produced world class movies that have flopped financially, but have been considered classics. Why does this happen? Because a majority of the people who go to theatres to watch the movies, are the ones who see it as plain entertainment and they don't care for logic. They demand dance, fights, romance scenes and they feel cheated if they do not see these on screen. I do not mean all, but a majority of regular theatre goers. While people who demand world class cinema stay at home, watch movies in the television much later or see it online through pirated versions, leaving good filmmakers with no money.

Naturally filmmakers, who want to make money, would have to make such mediocre masala type movies. But despite all odds, there are a group of filmmakers who have constantly made good movies, despite failing time and time again in the box office. These names are very few in number, but they exist and they become the inspiration for hundreds of other aspiring film makers. Many of these legends have retired or make a movie once in two or three years. Kamal Hassan is one of the last remaining fighters who makes good movies. Support him and show the other filmmakers that good movie of international standards will be received well and made profitable. Enough are the days where our film industries have been mocked by international film fraternity. Watch in theatres, appreciate good films and avoid piracy. May the worthy get all the praise, reputation and financial success...

(P.S) Try to not bash a movie just because it has a star, who is considered rival to your own favourite star. Appreciate good movies no matter who makes it. That is my humble request. At the end of it all, it's not just the stars, there are hundreds of people working on individual movie projects behind the camera and the star is the least affected of them all, mind you.

 - A.Prashanth Narasimhan (a proud Chennaite and Indian)

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