Strange how a controversy over a movie you haven’t watched can make you hit the pause button and wonder what happened to create so much discussion on social media. A Tamil film titled Jai Bhim, directed by TJ Gnanavel, starring superstar Suriya as real-life activist lawyer Chandru, sparked a storm in a boiling cauldron – not a small cup of tea. Why? Because it affects the house! It reflects the horrible truth about our society. It deals with issues that we would prefer to bury or sweep under the nearest one chattai – mainly, caste problems. Add police brutality, blatant discrimination, and the use of what eagle-eyed netzines have called a ‘community symbol’ on a timeline (digitally altered to a more secure image of Goddess Lakshmi after the controversy broke. ), and you have a formula for the fireworks. The fact that it was the first Tamil film to score an impressive 9.6 on IMDB, comparing its record viewer response to the highest rating ever achieved by The Shawshank Redemption, means that nothing will prevent Jai Bhim’s spectacular success, regardless of the ugly conversations surrounding it. Fortunately, actor Prakash Raj refused to bow to the pressure to apologize for the scene in which he, playing the role of a cop, slaps a prisoner who answers him in Hindi. It is NOT about the use of Hindi per se, he explained. It is about a man dodging police interrogations by answering in a language (Hindi) that the local cops do not understand, even though the man speaks Tamil. The prisoner’s attempt to obstruct the investigation is what leads to the slap. And no, it’s not about “hating” Hindi! Seems reasonable? For me it is. But clearly not to irritate the trolls who were trying to wedge themselves into an angle of North-South rivalry.
Perhaps this is the same army of trolls that opposed the portrayal of Tamils in a charming and harmless film titled Meenakshi Sundareshwar. How does a Punjabi, Sanya Malhotra, dare to play a traditional Tamil Brahmin girl? And hello! all those South Indian clichés in the movie! Terrible, horrible. Aiyo you too!
Something weird is brewing. And this garbage must be discouraged and condemned before the enemies go any further. Next thing you know, filmmakers will be asked to choose actors based on the community of characters they play on screen: Bengalis to play Bengalis, Maharashtrians to play Maharashtrians, etc. Worse, caste certificates may become mandatory with double Covid-19 vax certificates on movie sets.
Jai Bhim, says Suriya (who put her money where her mouth is and produced the courtroom drama), emphasizes caste-based oppression. Can anyone deny its existence? Inspired by the 1993 Cuddalore incident, when a prisoner disappeared from custody, leading his wife Parvathy Ammal, a female Irula, to seek help from attorney Chandru (played by Suriya). Jai Bhim compels us to face the shameful reality of the terrible injustices inflicted on tribal communities across India. Of course, that makes us uncomfortable – or should. But my point is slightly different – organized armies are hard at work to put pressure on the very language of films in India. They want to change and control the narratives according to their political agendas.
I watched Sooryavanshi in a multiplex cinema last week and left quite sickened by its Islamophobic subtext. It’s not at all surprising that most critics have chosen to overlook the obvious tilt and focus on Katrina Kaif’s flat stomach. It’s so much safer to comment on how many helicopters Rohit Shetty used in aerial scenes, or how many cars he blew up during chase scenes. Who wants to discuss the entirely one-sided portrayal of Muslims in the film? “Good” Muslims love cops and are happy to punish “bad” Muslims and thereby prove their loyalty to India. I would call this attempt jejune if it hadn’t been so insidious. The “good” Muslims in the film help Hindu neighbors secure an idol of Ganesha in preparation for a terrorist attack. The “bad” Muslims cheat, deceive and kill innocent people. As for the cops … they do what they do best in the Rohit Shetty movies – shake their buttocks and perform rain dances.
If we are not careful and vigorously protest such underhand manipulation of our artistic rights to tell our stories without fear of reprisals from politically aligned groups, all we will see in the future are propaganda films, made and made. approved by anxious lackeys. Films that encourage viewers to keep their blinders on while watching “messages” disguised as entertainment.
Hey Bhagwan! Did I just reveal my religious feelings? Dayyyyyyuuuuum!
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion maker, and social commentator who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
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