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Kamal Haasan is at the centre of controversy with objections being raised about his latest film Vishwaroop (the Tamil version is titled Vishwaroopam). With Muslim organisations protesting about the depiction of their community in the film, the Tamil Nadu government stepped in to ban the film. This has come as a huge setback for the filmmaker who had meanwhile resolved the situation with the Muslim organisations. "They (The Tamil Nadu government) won't rest easy until they finish off my film and destroy me financially. I am willing to face financial ruination, but I won't grovel and buckle under pressure. I never have. I never will. They can break me financially, but they can't break my spirit," says Kamal Haasan.
Action man: Kamal Haasan
Q: Why would the Tamil Nadu government victimise you? You are an iconic actor who has done the state and country proud.
They do not think so. They feel I have been making too many controversial films and I need to be tamed and brought to my knees. So today I am being labelled anti-Islamic because the terrorists in my film owe their allegiance to Al Qaeda. They forget I made a film on Hindu terrorism — Hey Ram. They also forget that I was the first actor who stood up and condemned the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I am a friend of the Muslim community. In fact because of my name, I am often mistaken for one at international airports.
Q: Why do you become anti-Islamic by showing Islamic terrorism in Vishwaroop? After all so many good Hindi films like Subhash Ghai's Black & White and Rensil D'Silva's Kurbaan have shown the identity crisis of the Indian Muslim and his link to terrorism.
That means zilch to these people. The interesting thing is, not one terrorist in my film is an Indian. All the terror activity in the film is located in Afghanistan. Some Muslim brethren objected to references to Al Qaeda. I removed those.
Q: Why object to Al Qaeda being linked to terror activities?
Are we romancing rationality here? I have tried to reason with Ms Jayalalitha. After the court's verdict I tried to meet her and explain my point of view. But she refused to meet me arguing that the matter is subjudice and that I should meet the Home Minister. Now, the Home Minister would have the same argument about the matter of being subjudice. I had met him and apprised him of my film and the situation before the court hearing. And there's no way the powers-that-be would not know that I met the Home Minister. Not a leaf stirs in the state without her knowledge.
Q: This issue has taken on connotations beyond that of a film release…
The world is watching. I think the issue has gone far beyond my film. I am ready to face the consequences. I am going to take the print of the Tamil version of Vishwaroop and burn it in front of the relevant government office. They are aborting my baby. I might as well give it a proper cremation. I won't bow down to fascism. This is a conspiracy to finish me off financially. To kill me. To make sure I am never able to make another film. And that is as good as death for me. Like I said, it is an irrational attack. But I've to fight it rationally because we artistes are rational people even if others are not.
Q: You realise that your fight-to-the-finish to premiere Vishwaroop via DTH (Direct To Home) and now your fight against fundamentalist forces and the TN Govt for the film's release, has made you a cause celebre in Bollywood?
Has it? About time (laughs). It should be something that should affect all of us. Some people have spoken up against the protests. I am touched. But these voices of protest don't matter. They (the TN Govt) are going to continue targeting the film until I am finished. It's about killing my baby even before it's born. It's a creative abortion.
Hairy tales: Kamal Haasan in a still from Vishwaroop
Q: Why would they target you? Is it because you took up the DTH issue?
It goes much deeper than that and we won't talk about it. My phone is tapped.
Q: That sounds ominous…Can they finish you off?
They can finish me off. I am a very arrogant man. I have just returned from a very successful world premiere of my film in Los Angeles. From what I've been told it's probably the biggest average grosser among all foreign films released in the U.S.
Q: When was the Hindi version of Vishwaroop going to be released?
We were looking at February 1. We had even planned a Mumbai premiere on Thursday. But I don't know if I will be allowed to release it. I have a track record of women spoiling my premiere plans.
Q: Which woman do you hold responsible for spoiling your premiere plans this time?
I am not saying anything.
Q: The Tamil Nadu Govt banned your film even after the censor board cleared it?
Clearly then, the censor board is redundant at least in Tamil Nadu. They should shut their office in Tamil Nadu.
Q: The film has been banned in Malaysia where you have a huge fan following?
Yes, my Muslim brethren here in India have spoken to their Muslim brethren in Malaysia.
Q: How did the DTH issue that actually started off the protests against Vishwaroop get entangled with Islamic protests against your film?
Though I don't share this opinion, some people whose judgement I trust believe that the DTH premiere of my film would totally invade the pirates' market.
Q: You also have North Indian multiplex theatres standing against your DTH premiere for Vishwaroop?
Interestingly, by opposing my DTH proposal the multiplex chains are actually one with the pirates.
Q: So the plot thickens?
I hope my cop friends are listening in. I am sure police force is above religion. Or is the colour khaki a religion by itself?
Q: I see your sense of humour is intact.
I am enjoying all of this, just like many people are enjoying my downfall.
Q: That is not funny.
I am not joking. I am serious. I can tell you this even if my phone is tapped: all my property, everything is pledged. If I don't obtain and provide financial relief before February 1, I lose all that I own.
Q: Did you mortgage your house to fund your dreams? That is old-fashioned.
Yes! It may be old-fashioned. But that's what I've always done. Why old-fashioned? It's the Satyajit Ray passion. He mortgaged everything to make Pather Panchali. I grew up hearing stories of how Ray saab put all his wife's jewels into making Pather Panchali. I wanted to go many steps further. Okay, now I can be called a Ray Ban (laughs heartily).
Q: Are you joking?
This is no ….ing joke. I am serious. I lose everything if the film doesn't release. I will be a pauper. I believe that no individual should own property. That it should be for the people. Whatever property I have came to me through cinema and I gave it back to cinema. That's why I pumped it back into the cinema. If I don't pay them by February 1, my financiers take all my property. And my financiers are not ones to yield to my plight. I might get arrested. But that's okay. They arrested Gandhiji too.
Q: How do you know your phone is tapped?
I've been there before. I am a 'tap' dancer.
Q: How much love do you feel for cinema at the moment?
Oh, a lot. I implore every movie maker to give back all they earn to cinema.
Q: Why hasn't the entire fraternity come forward to support you?
They don't even know me! I do have some people from Bollywood by my side.
Q: Vishwaroop is your nemesis?
No. Vishwaroop is my child. Politics is my nemesis. They want to abort my child. I am supposed to talk to Christians, Muslims and politicians to save my child. Why would I address my creativity to fascism?
Q: Given your financial crisis, how would you make your next film?
I will collect funds through a public company. I will get like minded people to fund my dreams. But I won't grovel. I won't surrender to fascism.
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The ongoing row over Vishwaroopam is not simply due to some Muslims of Tamil Nadu alleging that the film shows the community in a bad light. At the root of the controversy lies a political angle that is much more intriguing.
Kamal Hassan's speech at a recent book launch and his decision to release the film on the Direct-to-Home platform seem to have proved detrimental to the actor. Incidentally, the satellite rights of Vishwaroopam were first bagged by Jaya TV. A subsequent dispute between the channel and Raj Kamal Films meant that the rights were given to Vijay TV.
Kamal Hassan had by then entered into an understanding with Airtel DTH and Vishwaroopam was supposed to premiere at 9.30 p.m on Jan 10, 2013. However, objections raised by the Tamil Nadu Exhibitors Association and the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association forced him to announce on Jan 14 that the film will be released on the DTH platform only on Feb 2.
Prior to these developments, the actor who has so far stayed away from politics made a statement with significant connotations on Dec 30, 2012. That day, a book about Finance Minister P Chidambaram was released at a function in Chennai. After DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi handed over the first copy of the book to Chidambaram's mother Lakshmi Achi, the Kollywood icon remarked that Tamils are very capable of leading the nation and pointed to the finance minister.
Kamal Hassan probably did not realise that by praising P Chidambaram, he had unwittingly incurred Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's displeasure. According to political observers, the ADMK supremo was irked by the actor's words as she harbours ambitions of becoming the prime minister one day. This apparently contributed to the actor's present woes.
The alacrity with which the state government accepted the plea of pro-Muslim outfits to ban Vishwaroopam suggests that there is definitely a subtext. Last year, another film faced similar protests. Nevertheless, the Vijay-starrer 'Thuppaki' enjoyed a successful run even though a few organisations in Tamil Nadu railed against its unfavourable depiction of Muslims
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