Chennai/Mumbai: The only piece of good news for Tamil filmmaker Kamal Haasan on Wednesday was that the Hindi version of his beleagured production Vishwaroopam will be released on schedule. The dubbed film, titled Vishwaroop, will be out on 1 February even as battles over the movie’s release in Haasan’s native state rage in and beyond the court.
“The release of Vishwaroop is well on its way,” said Girish Johar, head of distribution and acquisitions, Balaji Motion Pictures. “We are targetting above 800 screens across the country. Everybody is on board. It will be the widest solo release in Hindi for Kamal Haasan.” Balaji Motion Pictures has the all-India rights for the Hindi version. “The controversy hasn’t affected the Hindi release, but it is very sad that you have a Censor certificate in hand and are still not being allowed to release the film,” Johar said.
However, the fate of Haasan’s international spy drama in its original language was by no means certain five days after it was released. In a day of fast-moving developments, which were tracked on a second-by-second basis by social networking sites, the Madras High Court set aside a single judge’s order clearing the decks for the film’s exhibition, the actor, director and producer gave a highly emotional press conference where he compared himself to artist MF Husain and threatened to leave Tamil Nadu for a more “secular state”, he agreed to trim the portions that have offended protesting Muslim groups, and he decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the HC order.
Groups in Tamil Nadu have criticised Vishwaroopma’s depiction of Muslim characters and demanded that it be banned. The state government sided with the protestors even though the film had been cleared for a release by the Central Board of Film Certification. The Rs.100-crore production was pulled out of cinemas soon after its release in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh on 25 January, but it has been playing without incident in Kerala.
Justice K Venkataraman’s stay, which was delivered late at night on 28 January, was on the ban imposed by the TN government. The division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Aruna Jagadeesan quashed this order on Wednesday, effectively also quashing hopes of the film making a return to the cinemas. Cinemas that started screening Vishwaroopam following the interim order had to halt their shows. During the hearing today, advocate general A Navaneethakrishnan said Justice Venkataraman had passed the order without taking into account the fact that Haasan’s petition was not maintainable in law. The AG said the judge had not considered the “important aspect” that the order passed under Sec 144 had been given after taking into consideration the need to maintain public order and communal harmony.
Meanwhile, the filmmaker said that he had agreed to delete “certain scenes and words” relating to the Quran. A highly emotional Haasan said in a press conference that he was “fed up” with the turn of events. He said he had mortgaged his property to make the movie, and that the state in which he was born wanted to drive him out. “I will have to seek a secular state for my stay... Secular state from Kashmir to Kerala, excluding Tamil Nadu... Tamil Nadu wants me out,” he said.
J Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has so far refrained from commenting on the issue. Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters in the Capital that “there is liberty for artists” in India and that everybody had the right to freedom of expression.
Before he upset Muslim groups, Haasan had raised the hackles of cinema owners in Tamil Nadu by deciding to premiere the movie on direct-to-home television a day before its theatrical release. Haasan was forced to change his decision after theatre owners threatened to boycott him for potentially harming the movie’s theatrical business. He said at the press conference that he, “along with my Muslim friends”, was being made an “instrument in a political game”. Haasan alleged, “I don’t know who is playing and not even hazarding the guess. The fact remains that my history has proven that I have been neither leaning to the left or right but trying to maintain my position. I think I will have to see a secular state for me to stay in. I will learn in another couple of days whether I will be able to find a secular state in India or not. I will find, hopefully, another country which is secular that might take me in.”
With inputs from Press Trust of India.