Sarkar in the soup
Vijay-starer political thriller Sarkar that deals with the subject of freebies doled out by the government as part of poll promises has run into trouble as the ruling party in Tamil Nadu AIADMK has demanded a number of changes in the film. The film, which was released on Diwali and grossed over Rs 100 crore within two days of its opening has oblique references to former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The film's story is about an NRI who comes to India to cast his vote but when he reaches the polling booth, he finds that his vote has already been cast. He tries to get to the bottom of the matter and it leads to the unravelling of everything that is wrong about the current political culture. The film climaxes to a political turmoil where the issue of the populist decision of the government such as the distribution of colour TV, mixer grinder, laptops, etc. come in sharp focus. Since the release of the film, AIADMK ministers and workers have demanded the removal of certain scenes and dialogues. They have also resorted to protests and damaging of films banners and posters. The state government has also threatened that it would initiate legal action against the film crew if they do not comply by its demands to remove controversial scenes from the film. Director, A R Murugadoss on Thursday tweeted that some policemen had come to his house and banged on the doors in the night. Fearing legal trouble, Murugadoss approached the Madras High Court on Friday for an anticipatory bail and the court has granted him protection from arrest till November 27. Meanwhile, he has decided to remove some scenes and mute some conversations that the AIADMK leaders have found offending in the film.
In the long list of films that kicked up a controversy because of its content, Sarkar is the latest entry. The yet-to-be-released Shah Rukh Khan-starer Zero is also in the news for containing some controversial scenes that are said to be hurting the sentiments of a particular religious community. Some time ago, Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Padmaavati (later released as Padmavat) was amid a raging controversy for portraying queen Padmavati in poor light. Most of these films have obtained the approval of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). In 2016, film Udta Punjab that depicted the widespread prevalence of drug abuse and the different facets of the drug trade in Punjab had touched a nerve of a section of the people who demanded a number of cuts in the film. All these films have been extremely successful at the box office. As filmmaking is a cost-intensive business, the success of a film is of critical importance for everyone involved with the project. A great deal of contemplation and planning goes into the selection of the story on which the film is to be made. Films based on the lives of charismatic political leaders and historical personalities draw a lot of attention from the audience. In order to make the films interesting, filmmakers deliberately infuse some controversial elements about them into their films and this usually sets off a public hue and cry. A little bit of controversy is said to be in the interest of the film as this works as a publicity rather than a setback.
Jayalalithaa, who was a star in Tamil film industry before entering politics, is one such personalty that offers unlimited scope to be rediscovered on the celluloid screen. So, as far as the choice of the story is concerned, filmmakers involved with Sarkar have made no mistake and the little controversy that it has generated may prove to be a blessing in disguise as the film is now widely known and more people are expected to watch it. But in the case of Jayalithaa who was treated with extreme reverence by her followers, anything disparaging about her can cause widespread resentment. AIADMK politicians who are opposing Sarkar knows this aspect of the people's psychology only too well, so they would not like to miss out on any opportunity that brings back the memory of charismatic Jayalalithaa and makes people rally around to protect her image. In absence of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, the Tamil Nadu politics has lately been devoid of the power play between the two political heavyweights that kept the people glued to the two regional parties that dominate the political scene in the state. The new leadership in both AIADMK and DMK has been trying hard to find their feet in the changed political environment.
The controversies surrounding some of the Indian films point to the resilience of the film industry that has consistently refused to be bound by the parochial value system of the political class. That more and more filmmakers are picking up avant-garde themes suggest that the Indian film industry is on a trajectory of its own, unaffected by what a section of the audience or the political thinks about it.