The unseemly controversy over the Rajinikanth-starrer, Kaala, which is slated for a global release today, could have been avoided had the Karnataka government taken a firm stand. It should have said that it would neither support the plea from pro-Kannada groups for a ban on the film nor let miscreants take the law in their hands. Instead, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy sought to echo the pro-ban sentiment and asked the producers to postpone the film’s release in the state. Though the administration has since said in the Karnataka High Court that it would provide security to theatres if necessary, the message has gone out that the new government is pliable to populist demands of non-state actors.
The Cauvery issue is a sensitive matter in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and a rational debate on the issue has become near impossible in both states. Rajinikanth’s recent remark that Karnataka must follow the Supreme Court’s directive and cooperate with the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board may have sounded insensitive in Bengaluru but it was by no means an irrational or unjust demand. Considering, however, the long history of the dispute and the passions involved, he could have waited for due process to fix the problem and refrained from comment. That said, the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) need not have jumped into the fray and sought a ban on the film. It has only emboldened the extremist elements who hold hardline positions on sharing the river to whip up passions. A workable redress mechanism will require all the stakeholders to abandon maximalist positions, understand the river in terms of a single basin and preserve, protect and share its resources accordingly. That’s a task best left to experts. If the Cauvery issue continues unresolved it is because there has been no conversation between people of the two states. Instead, vested interests have manipulated public opinion to turn what is a unifying life-giving resource into a utility that divides people.
It is ironic that an industry body has led the move to get Kaala banned. A film is a collective effort — of investors to workers — and has big money riding on it, a fact the KFCC surely is aware of. Platforms like the KFCC should be above identity politics. In fact, it ought to take the lead against moves to target a particular artist or film on the grounds of linguistic or regional identity.