“Naan yeppo varuvaen, eppadi varuven nu yaarukum theriyadhu. Anaal varavendia nerathla correctaa varuvaen” is a Rajini-ism that I used to end my NDTV news reports with, whenever speculation on the superstar taking the political plunge cropped up. That cryptic punchline from his blockbuster ‘Muthu’, meaning “no one knows when I will come, how I will come. But at the right time, I’ll be there.” Quite the Arnold Schwarzenegger equivalent of “I’ll be back”! I remembered this statement while participating in a recent Newshour debate on Times Now anchored by my friend and former colleague Arnab Goswami. The topic was on ‘Fighting the Fringe’. Rajinikanth was warned by some outfits not to star in a film on Tipu Sultan as they viewed the warrior as a ‘tyrant’ who had tortured innocent people. Although my under graduate degree was in History, I will not get into the merits of the charge. History is often interpreted in many ways and as a votary of free speech, I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. And as a secular citizen, I also believe we must respect the sentiments of all sections and not hurt any feelings.
What rankles is something else. Who are these fringe groups who suddenly pop up and dictate terms to others, especially actors ? How are they entitled to decide what you and I should see or not see? How do they know what message a film will convey even before it is shot? What clairvoyant powers do they possess to predict audience response? Why are celebrities, particularly popular actors soft targets? Is it because latching on to them guarantees instant publicity?
With what authority do they behave like self-styled censors? Who gave them the right to impose their extra constitutional writ and usurp the power of the Censor Board? Such incidents do perhaps call for an overhaul of the way we pack political loyalists into the Censor Board to make the body more representative in its outlook by involving all relevant stake holders so there is no room for parallel censoring of films and possible blackmail and extortion.
South India has had its share of controversies and protests before the release of films. From the title to specific scenes to the overall message portrayed, there have been sticky points, prompting even State Governments to ban some films in the interest of Law & Order, which justifiably, is a State subject.
The BJP, miffed by the upcoming film, at least acted in a more mature fashion by writing a letter to Rajinikanth, requesting him not to act in the ‘controversial’ movie. One can’t say the same about a few outfits that claim to represent the collective conscience of society. Rajinikanth is a reasonable man. Remember how after PMK Leader and Former Union Health Minister Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss appealed to him to quit smoking in films, he readily obliged? By all means let’s debate issues. There is no need to take to the streets and hand out threats.
I can never forget the way certain groups led protests against actor-politician Khushbu over her remarks on pre-marital sex. The protesters were ostensibly upset over what they construed as a threat to ‘Indian culture’. Ironically, these torch bearers of culture, didn’t mind holding aloft slippers and brooms and mouthing expletives!
Look at the fatwa issued against Oscar winning music composer A.R.Rahman over another film. Rahman’s response on facebook was rational, objective and in keeping with his stature. As I said earlier, let’s not hurt sensibilities. Movies are for entertainment, not to divide us and lead to breach of peace. No audience will enjoy a movie if the threat of hooligans storming into the theatre looms large. If there are issues, let people fight it legally. Our Courts have been sensitive to such issues and have stayed the release of movies that were found to be inflammatory. But clearly, issuing threats is no solution. If our conscience keepers need real issues to protest, I can suggest one. Ask fans of stars to stop pouring milk over their giant hoardings at theatres and give it to starving children instead.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author,Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)