With Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam finally hitting the screens in Tamil Nadu, where it suffered a ban for about two weeks following protests from Muslim groups, the actor-filmmaker’s innumerable fans can finally indulge in the cinematographical marvel that the film promises to be. But the controversy surrounding the film, and the way it was eventually handled by Haasan, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, the wider film fraternity as well as the public at large, can also prove to be a huge learning experience for everyone. Although it is true that there exists a pernicious ‘culture of intolerance’ in India, and that the most prevalent form of politics that gets played out is that of vote-bank appeasement, nevertheless the fact that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu placed peacekeeping and maintenance of law and order in the state above and beyond everything else, was commendable. While Jayalalitha defended the government ban, that came into effect on 22 January (and was in fact upheld by the Madras High Court), citing security issues, she also, in a fascinating display of political acumen, facilitated the negotiations between Haasan and the protesting groups, that eventually led to the ban being lifted on 3 February. The Chief Minister equally rubbished the silly allegations of ‘settling prior scores with Kamal Haasan’ by the DMK leader M Karunanidhi, who himself wanted to free-load some brownie points at the expense of the brouhaha engulfing the film. Jayalalitha, not bowing either to the hue and cry from the self-proclaimed liberal section of the belligerent media shouting ‘cultural emergency’, or bending before the fanatical sections from the Muslim groups, who demanded a permanent ban on the film, demonstrated effectively that the only kind of politics feasible in a functioning and chaotic democracy such as ours, is that of continuous dialogue, openness towards reconciliation and treading a middle ground.
Now that the film has been released in Tamil Nadu, albeit with seven audio edits, and other minor changes, the people of the southern state can decide for themselves whether the film is or is not ‘anti-Muslim’. Haasan had earlier earned public ire for depicting the mayhem of partition in Hey Ram. He is rightly dubbed a national treasure who can fuse a gigantic scale of production, immense technological flourish, with emphasis on nuances, layered texturing of scenes and screenplay, without seriously compromising or hurting the sentiments of religious communities in this country. The hallmark of a serious artist is commitment to his vision, and a successful artist marries that sincerity with respect for his audience. Although the filmmaker did seem peeved and even speculated on leaving the country for a moment, we are only glad that the fate of the late MF Hussain did not befall Kamal Haasan.