On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government empowered Collectors in the state to restrain cinema owners from exhibiting Kamal Haasan’s much-awaited Vishwaroopam, less than 48 hours before the film was scheduled to hit the screens yesterday (Friday). Accordingly, the police machinery swung into action and issued prohibitory orders against the film, ostensibly to ‘ensure peace and public tranquility’.
On Thursday, Hassan moved the Madras High Court to appeal against the Tamil Nadu government’s ban. The High Court has decided to review the film on Saturday (today) and pronounce its verdict on Monday on whether the ban is justified. Whatever the final verdict, the expensive film’s scheduled release in over 500 cinemas in Tamil Nadu has gone for a toss, compounding the film’s release troubles – its original release date of January 11 had to be postponed after cinema owners refused to exhibit the film in protest against Haasan’s plan to premiere the film on DTH before its theatrical release, a plan that Haasan consequently abandoned.
Let us say this as emphatically, as unequivocally and as unambiguously as possible: we at Box Office India strongly condemn this move by the State government and police authorities.
What we are witnessing in Tamil Nadu is not just an attack on a fellow (and highly accomplished and respected) filmmaker, not just an attack on the country’s film fraternity, but an attack on the democratic rights and constitutional freedoms that all of us hold dear as citizens of India.
It is ironic, or perhaps a sign of the times that we live in, that the ban pertains to a film that was scheduled to release on the eve of Republic Day. It was on this day, 63 years ago, that the Constitution of our nation came into force, a Constitution that enshrined Freedom of Expression as one of our most basic, fundamental rights.
And while we are at it, here are some basic, fundamental questions to those who have so authoritatively decreed the ban:
How many people among the powers-that-be have actually watched the film to arrive at such a grave and drastic conclusion?
If State governments and police officials are to decide on whether a film is suitable for public consumption, what is the point of a Censor Board whose role is precisely to carry out that function? And let us remind the powers-that-be that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is not a self-serving film industry association but a Statutory Body under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting whose officials are nominated by the Central Government. If we are fortunate enough to have our films pass relatively unscathed by the CBFC, are we then supposed to go through the same rigmarole with the State government and then the district administration, and further down to each municipality, each Panchayat and each neighbourhood committee before we can release our films?
Finally, and this one is directed to the Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Jayalalithaa – Respected ma’am, before embarking on your political career, you were a popular and accomplished film artiste. No one is expecting you to dole out any special favours to your former fraternity but surely a little bit of empathy and understanding towards an industry that contributes a substantial source of your tax revenues is not too much to ask for, is it?