The Mouse that Roared!
I can’t help suppress a chuckle over the recent brawl over the release of Vishwaroopam by the world’s greatest actor, Ulaganayagan Padma Shri Kamal Hassan. But I can’t find it in me to sympathize with anyone other than the distributors, exhibitors who have invested their capital that is now substantially locked up, pending the full release of the movie. And the technical crew who have worked behind the scenes, to helm this film – the clapper boy, light men, trolley operators, sound boom men, and technicians from the scores of other trades that must work efficiently, but unsung, unseen, to produce the finished product we are used to. While the threat of mob violence against free speech cannot be condemned enough, some of those of the press and the arts, this time Kamal and the intolerable apologist Rahul Bose, are finding out that rationalizing the intolerance of one side does not earn them a pass or even understanding. Kamal has turned out to be a naïve, gutless, misinformed appeaser who fancies himself as an idealist.
I am not a great fan of Kamalahasan or Kamal Hassan as he prefers to be known. He is a scene stealer, and hogs the production budget. Muktha V. Srinivasan was forced to reveal, in a rejoinder in “The Hindu” that Kamal gobbled up 40% of the budget of “Nayakan” after in the same paper, in a remarkable act of gracelessness, Kamal all but accused Srinivasan of lacking an aesthetic sense. Kamal has a limited histrionic range and trots out a stock routine of emotions. If you’ve seen the old man in Kadal Meengal in 1981, the aged Velu Nayagar in Nayagan wasn’t at all different. Apart from that is Kamal’s penchant for borrowed plots, and worse the unnecessary ever present borrowed scene – as the mish mash of “Butterflies are Free”, “Major Chandrakanth” and “The Graduate” that Raaja Paarvai became!
But for all his bluster Kamal, who’s acted as an old man, as a dwarf, as an autistic, lacks courage to follow through. His movies are still tame on the question of relationships and marriage. Except when others have made the movie in question, as with the Rudriah classic, “Aval Appadithan” or K.Vishwanath’s Swathi Muthyam. His Soora Samharam, a knockoff off of Peter Weir’s Witness, omitted the character of the Amish widow and her repressed sexuality entirely, substituting it with a light romantic encounter with a vivacious young woman! Years later when Kamal knocked off The Meg Ryan-Kevin Kline “French Kiss” he took care to excise any hint of extra-marital relationships out of the plot!
Kamal is good a few things though, and I say this in all seriousness without a hint of condescension. He is a great comedian, one of the few of all time with a talent for both varieties – screwball and slapstick. Comedy is very hard, much harder than tragedy, and comedians as a rule are very smart, of rapier wit. Needless to say, he is a great dancer and among the most courageous stuntmen of all time. These are not trivial accomplishments and the praise is richly deserved.
But politics, that’s another matter. The tearful letter on Kamal’s Facebook page is a parser’s delight! Kamal isn’t asserting his right to artistic expression. The letter refers to his sympathies for “that community” evidenced by his “statements”, a sort of affirmation of fealty. Harmony India, whom Kamal claims to have worked with, is an organization of questionable motivation whose members include among others, the “Nawab of Arcot” who led a mob that vandalized an exhibition on Aurangazeb at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Chennai in 2008. The Nawab also pals with disreputable Islamist Kazhagams and hasn’t uttered a squeak condemning their assault on the US Consulate in Chennai last year. If Kamal can still think for himself he must first take a long hard look at whom he is palling with. Extremists and bigots are given to constant denial and require absolute loyalty from their sympathizers. Kamal being a Hinduphobe in atheist clothes won’t do unless he stays clear of anything to do with jihad and Islamism, as he has just found out. And his pleas to “patriotic and neutral Muslims” whatever does that mean? Is the Tamizhaga Muslim Munnettra Kazhagam, neutral, patriotic or unpatriotic? And why ever does he talk of patriotism when his fellow actor the execrable Rahul Bose has acted in movies with tendentious plots such as “Shaurya” and “Mrs. And Mr. Iyer” which go out of their way to manufacture Hindu perfidy, and an excusable Muslim rage.
Kamal should understand that a movie about jihadism, while it enrages the Islamist will also be hurtful. Some will be hurt that their fellow religionists have waged terror upon the innocent, and will question themselves. Yet others like the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the notorious underwear bomber of Christmas Day 2009, have gone as far as to report their own to the law.
even as we speak, this very moment there are very many men and women of every faith, in uniform, or plainclothes, working to keep their land safe. Others will feel hurt and try to deny, or justify the act of terror, and sometimes do both. A popular strand of 9/11 denialism alleges that the incident was the result of a Zionist conspiracy, and yet the self-same deniers celebrate the dark deeds of 9/11 and insist that it is god’s revenge upon the faithless!
When some refer to the many movies that have been critical of Hindu custom such as “Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam”/Prem Rog (the treatment of widows), the many movies that have criticized jati-vaad and discrimination, it is pointed out that these works are of a self-critical nature. But that would be missing the point. For decades now, especially since Independence, Hindu life has been criticized not only through the medium of art, but more extensively through academic enquiry. Very weighty charges have been levied against Hindus and their traditions. Kamal himself for all his parodying of TamBrahms (even inventing a bloody Saiva-Vaishnava rivalry in Dasavatharam) enjoys the friendship of his fellow TamBrahms of the stage. The likes of Mouli, Crazy Mohan and S.Ve. Shekar continue to fete him. So rather than talk to those on the vile or glamorous margins of India’s Muslim community, Kamal would do well to talk to the everyman Muslim of India, whose concerns are not at all different from his fellow Hindu. As Kamal’s distinguished fellow artiste and TamBrahm Cho Ramaswamy recently said in Chennai at the 43rd anniversary celebration of the Tuglak, for the police to sit tight rather than act against rabble like Owaisi in fear of offending Muslim sentiment, would be an insult to Muslims and Islam.
(Image Courtesy- http://manatelugucinemaa.blogspot.com/)