The question is significant in Tamil cinema where every producer is someone or someone’s someone, every industry association is like a cooperative bank whose director board is reorganised after each regime change, and every actor has to be pro-regime or, at the bare minimum, neutral to keep his career in cinema.
Take for instance the case of popular comedy actor Vadivelu, who found himself out of work overnight in 2011. Psephology, not numerology, got him. In the Assembly elections that year, he had been an active campaigner for the DMK-led alliance, focusing his fire on his former co-star, ‘Captain’ Vijayakant, the founder-leader of the DMDK. Once the AIADMK won with the DMDK as an ally, Vadivelu became an untouchable. Ever since then, he has had no films in hand.
There is parity though in such “boycotts”. Another comedian Senthil who swore by the name of ‘Amma’ when the DMK was in power paid the price as did popular young star Vijay, whose films surprisingly failed. There were allegations of a DMK hand as it followed the actor’s mentor-father V C Chandrasekaran launching a political party with Vijay as the mascot.
Even a comment by noted young star Ajith in the presence of the then chief minister M Karunanidhi about actors being forced to take a position on sensitive political issues had led to him being heckled by parties as well as industry associations, before Karunanidhi was graceful enough to bring about a truce.
The industry itself is a super censor. Theatres decided not to release Dam 999 even before the government formalised it with a ban. Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai had to protest on the streets to get her film Sengadal - The Dead Sea — it criticised the Sri Lankan navy and, more importantly, politics by parties in the state — screened at the Chennai film festival.
Actual freedom of expression was abdicated long ago in Tamil Nadu. Kamal Haasan’s compromise on Vishwaroopam is only the latest in a long list.
Gopu is a principal correspondent based in Chennai