Karthi Tamil Film under fire from fringe casteist groups

From books to movies, Tamil Nadu has an unenviable recent record of killing almost any form of non-conformist or dissenting work of creative expression. Just as the debate now rages over freedom of expression across the state with fringe casteist groups increasingly cracking down on Tamil writers who pen tomes they consider to be irreverant, some pro-Dalit groups have now sought to stall the release of yet another Kollywood movie.

This one, Komban is in their cross hairs for its alleged pro-Thevar (dominant caste in Southern Tamil Nadu) narrative. Dalit outfit Puthiya Thamizhagam's leader Krishnaswamy has approached the high court seeking to stall the movie's release saying that it is based on a caste clash in Tamil Nadu, and may trigger more violence with its pro-Thevar tilt. Krishnaswamy is not new to charging at films, and Komban is not the first Tamil film to run into trouble. In 2004, Krishnaswamy had forced actor Kamal Haasan to change the title of his film from Sandiyar to Virumaandi. Because Sandiyar, the leader claimed, resonated caste pride. Virumaandi went on to become a blockbuster hit and was acclaimed as one of the finest films in Tamil of recent vintage. Curiously, Kamala Haasan ran into trouble with his last film Viswaroopam in 2013. The film faced an official ban imposed by the state government for about a fortnight because some Muslim organisations asked for one. The film's storyline was about India's role in 'war on terror'.

Actor Vijay's movie Kathi ran into trouble over its producers. The film was produced by Lyca productions, who were reportedly close to Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapakse, whom the pro-Lankan Tamil hold responsible for the military excesses of the 2009 Sri Lankan civil war at which the LTTE was decimated. The detractors would have nothing less than removing the name of the producers from the film and its promos before they allowed its release. The recent attack on Komban has again opened up the wounds. Says writer Gnani: "Krishnaswamy opposed the title Sandiyar when Kamal Haasan used it. There was another movie called Sandiyar by a relatively lesser-known team that was released last year and he said nothing about it. I think he would not have opposed it if the film did not have the kind of star cast it had. The court's decision asking for a screening of Komban before its release will set a wrong precedent."

But caste dominance in Tamil cinema is something that cannot be wished away either. Kollywood has had a long list of films glorifying the Thevars, a dominant caste. Observers point out that from titles like Thevar Magan and Chinna Gounder, there have been films that unabashedly eulogising the dominant caste groups. "There is a difference between freedom of expression and a freedom to spew hatred. Our cinema has commodified hate and its not a good thing," says writer and politician D Ravikumar.