Fate of Madras Café points to the abdication of the Jayalalithaa government
In Tamil Nadu,it would appear that fear is the default mode for film distributors and directors. Distributors in Chennai have refused to touch Madras Cafe,cleared by the censor board and released across the country. The film,which explores the LTTE insurgency during the 1980s,has drawn pre-emptive protests in the state,where the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils is still an emotive issue. While its detractors have been vocal,there are few voices urging the freedom of artistic expression. This silence takes its cue from the state government.
At each juncture in the recent past,the message has been the same the industry of hurt sentiments will not be denied. And the government will protect it with an ardour that is missing when it comes to protecting filmmakers and audiences from potential violence. The current episode could be an action replay of the controversy surrounding the release of Kamal Haasans Vishwaroopam. Muslim groups,supported by Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa,had demanded a ban on the film. It was finally released in the state with sections lopped off,even though it had already been passed by the censor board. The politics of hurt is not limited to film releases. In March,Jayalalithaa had declared that no Sri Lankan players would be allowed into the state for IPL matches. A few weeks ago,a Madras University official was scared into cancelling a lecture by an Islamic scholar.
The charged atmosphere that Jayalalithaa alluded to in March is much of her governments own making. It has helped multiply the constituencies that claim injury and demand censorship. Recently,the release of Vijay starrer Thalaiva was held up by threats from a student group that objected to the portrayal of certain characters. It didnt help,of course,that Vijay is known to be an actor with political ambitions and the posters were suggestively captioned time to lead. Madras Café is only the latest example in a lengthening series of battles won by fringe groups in a regime where the government wont stand firm.