“Vishwaroopam” touches yet another Indian nerve
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)
Actor and filmmaker Kamal Haasan’s film “Vishwaroopam” was supposed to open in cinemas last Friday, but that’s not happening in Tamil Nadu after Muslim groups protested against scenes that they consider offensive.
The tussle over what is acceptable material for movie audiences is the latest example of a recurring problem with art in India. If it offends someone, anyone, it risks being deemed unsuitable for everyone.
Film-makers have never had it easy in a country that is rapidly modernising, but is still largely conservative. One wrong move, and a film might never even make it to the cinema.
Here’s a look at some other Indian films which hit a wall with political or religious groups even after making it past the censor board:
My Name is Khan: This 2010 film was about a man with Asperger’s syndrome but lead actor Shah Rukh Khan irked the right-wing Shiv Sena by suggesting in an interview that Pakistan cricketers be invited to play in India. Activists vandalised some cinemas screening the film in Mumbai and burnt posters of Khan. Hundreds of protesters were arrested. Five years earlier, a comment by actor Aamir Khan on displaced villagers in Gujarat prompted a backlash against his film “Fanaa,” and cinemas in the state didn’t show the movie. Ironically, this might have helped the film.
Son of Sardaar: This Ajay Devgn production was among the few films to feature a turbaned Sikh in the lead. But the 2012 film angered the Sikh community by hurting “religious sentiments”, as did “Singh is Kinng” (2008) and “Jo Bole So Nihaal” (2005). The first two films got off lightly but “Jo Bole So Nihaal” braved two bomb attacks in Delhi cinemas.
Fire: Long before “Midnight’s Children”, Deepa Mehta’s “Fire” (1996) depicted two women in unhappy marriages having an affair. The Shiv Sena didn’t take too kindly to one of India’s first films to depict lesbianism, just as they targeted “Girlfriend” in 2004. In an interview in 1998, then party chief Bal Thackeray described “Fire” as a “sort of a social AIDS”. Mehta’s brush with controversy continued with “Water”, a 2005 movie exploring the plight of Indian widows that the filmmaker originally intended to make half a decade earlier. But right-wing activists upset over the film’s subject destroyed its main set in Varanasi, forcing Mehta to film in Sri Lanka.
Gadar – Ek Prem Katha: This 2001 film became one of the most successful Bollywood films ever, with audiences flocking to see the love story of a Sikh man and a Muslim woman during the Partition riots of 1947. But incidents of vandalism and communal tension marred the start of a spectacular run at the box office.
Oh My God!: The story of a man who takes God to court was bound to ruffle some feathers in India. Its depiction of certain Hindu beliefs did anger some, including politician Sushma Swaraj, but the 2012 film’s social message seemed to have won over critics and audiences.
Jodhaa Akbar: The love story of 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar and a Rajput Hindu princess sparked protests in northern India over its alleged historical inaccuracies, especially by Rajput groups who believe Jodhaa was Akbar’s daughter-in-law. Several states banned the 2008 film after some movie halls were attacked, but the Supreme Court later ruled in favour of the film’s makers.
Sins: This film gained notoriety in 2005 with its storyline of a Catholic priest in a relationship with a girl. Needless to say, Christian groups objected. The film also tanked at the box office, but that’s another story.
This is a partial list. Which movies did I forget? I look forward to hearing from you.