Movie Vishwaroopam controversy that
centers on profiling of the Muslim community has fallen into the
quagmire of the hackneyed debate of right of expression vs right
The liberals are flagging off the
freedom of expression agenda while those at the receiving end are
vehement about asserting their fundamental right to protest for
time and again being profiled as terrorist. The fire power of the
media is used by the freedom of expression protagonist to convince
their commands of wisdom are the final words on the subject.
Those being publicly being
humiliated are using the democratic armory to score some brownie
points. Call it vote bank or seize mentality, the government of
the day has to take cognizance of the ground reality and cannot
trample the voices of protest.
Who is winning and who is loosing
the debate is left to the individual judgment as there are other
nuggets in this story to be explored.
There is a tug of war between centre and the state in this
controversy. The central government asserts that the state
government cannot over rule the censor board’s approval for the
screening of the movie and has to comply with the formalities.
The state government argues that
when public peace is in jeopardy and law and order situation is to
be tampered, the government is within the constitutional right to
maintain peace as law and order is state subject over which
central government has no over riding powers.. The state
government seems to be convinced that public peace is paramount
and banning the movie is for the larger interest of social good.
The judiciary too seems to be divided on the issue. When some
theaters refused to screen the movie the court gave the advice to
go for out of court settlement. When the state government came
forward to ban the movie, a single bench overruled the
government’s order. This was turned down by a dual bench that
justified the ban.
The matter is to be heard in the Supreme Court and it is likely
that the ban may be quashed citing precedents, but the question
remains, will the release of the movie draw full houses or people
may keep away from the theaters fearing untoward incidents.
A similar situation had emerged with the release of the movie
Arakshan and “Jodha Akbar.” Both the movies were banned by the
state government first and then the Supreme Court overruled and
ordered the release of the film.
Even though the apex court has cast its judgment in favor of the
film but many movie goers fearful of the shadows of the guns and
the prospects of bomb blasts stayed away from the theaters. Both
the movies ultimately became victim of their controversies.
The nineties have been full with movies that profiled Muslims as
anti social and terrorist. The Hindi – Hindu – Hindustan formula
of the majority right wing elements of India society that
monetarily triumphed following the destruction of Babari Masjid,
cast its spell on the Indian film makers.
A glut of films with negative shades of Muslim characters was
produced. Kashmir and Pakistan provided the set piece for
villainy. Obviously, if the plot was terrorism, then Kashmir and
Pakistan has to be on the fore and the logical deduction was that
the characters have to be Muslims.
In this added another big picture,
the 9/11, and US quest for infinite justice and endearing freedom.
The celluloid industry became busy churning out movies of good
guys verses bad guys. The holier than though image was straight
jacketed for the US and each of us were made to forget about the
creators of the bad guys,
One can understand the Hollywood perspective, but Bollwwood and
Kollywood falling in line had its own to axe to grind. It’s often
discussed that the movies produced these days hardly have any
connect with the Indian audience.
The plot centers on the Diasporas
and meant for such international audience. The language, the
dress, the location and many other such things are all foreign
that’s plated to the Indian audience as a visual delight. The film
makers do not realize that visual communication trap can’t
constructed without it viewer’s base by treating the subject out
The movie Vishwaroopam is a classical example of such visual
fantasy. The plot that develops in the US, travels to Afghanistan
and is plated to the Indian audience in the Tamil language. Which
Indian audience can relate to such plot? It’s obvious that the
audience that connected most to the movie were the Indian Muslims,
who found their religion was being denigrated in the construct of
villainy and hence chose to protest.
Vishwaroopam, the name screams that it tries to portray the shape
of the world. And according to the world view of the film maker
“all Muslim are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”.
When the controversy has reached its nadir, the question is asked
is it the ignorance or the arrogance of the film maker that’s on
display Vishwaroopam? Why the film maker did not thought of its
viewers sentiments while padding up its visual contents.
Embarking on such superlative projects with prejudiced world view
is bound to ruffle feathers. Can a film maker afford to do this in
a market driven industry which judges the success of the movie
purely on its cash returns.
Here a mention can be made about few movies that did the profiling
of the Muslims with outmost sobriety tackling the same theme
‘Vishwaroopam’ tries to tread on. ‘New York’ ‘Kurban,’ ‘My name is
Khan’ all tried present the problem of terrorism against the US in
a holistic way. The Islamic content in the movie was wonderfully
highlighted and this was well appreciated by the Muslim audience
as well others.
A mention has to be made about the
documentary Allah Hu Akbar (Allah is Great) that shows the
protagonist Salim taxiwala, a devout Muslim who prays five times a
day and has firm belief that Allah’s commandments runs supreme. He
carries a foreigner in his cab to the airport and his follies in
the journey make him miss his international flight. Little did
this cab driver realize that his carelessness saved the life of
the passenger whose flight was high-jacked by international
terrorists who blew up the plane shouting Allah Hu Akbar. Such
movie obvious has a straight connect with the Indian audience.
‘Vishwaroopam’ no doubt can be a great feast of celluloid
presentation but its rough edges are bound to pike those whom it
tries to paint in negative shades. This takes us another area and
that is the approval certification for the screening of the movie
given by the Censor board.
The movie Vishwaroopam has questioned the wisdom of the members of
the censor board who has given it the clearance for screening
without going into the repercussions it may attract from some
section of the society.
Is the Censor Board Holy Cow that needs to be worshiped as an
epitome of infallible truth and blindly approve all that it clears
for public viewing?
The free flow of blood and gore, explicit sexual content fit to be
called pornography finds its presence in the large body of the
cinematic art that the censor board approves as fit for
entertainment. Similarly, the censor board gives approval to the
screen play, dialogue and even the lyrics that are full with
innuendoes. There can umpteen examples of highly sexual and lewd
content that is passed by the censor board as a form of cinematic
Can we gulp such pulp fiction without making any hue and cry just
because the censor board has approved it? The general view of
movie goers is no film these days is worthy to be watched with
family and children. Who will address their concern?
In this money spinning industry where astronomical amount is spent
on the making of the movie, a trend has developed the seal can be
bought by greasing the palms and the censor board is reduced to
selling certificates for a price.
This view is held by a section of society who feels censor board
is pedaling unsavory contents as artistic expression. They argue
that growing crime in the society is directly proportional to the
immoral cinematic content licensed by the censor board.
The counter argument runs that times are changing and so are
societal values, it’s not the censor board but it’s the viewers
that needs to change the mindset. It’s chick and egg syndrome and
can be argued till the ‘cows come home.’
The way out to the ‘Vishwaroopam’ controversy is found in an out
of court settlement with the group objecting to its contents. But
is this the right way, is something that’s being debated. How long
a movie or any piece of art can lean on the crutches of government
or judiciary’s protection for its viewing. This question has to be
addressed by those in the field of the creative art even before
making their storyboards.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a
journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org