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The ‘Vishwaroopam’ Ban: Attack on Freedom of Speech?

Bollywood's big budget film Vishwaroopam, which is directed and co-produced by Kamal Haasan, has made headlines before its release — and for all the wrong reasons. In June 2012, the film ran into trouble with the Hindu Makkal Katchi, a Hindu political party from Tamil Nadu, who demanded that the title be changed.

Kamal Haasan's plan for the movie's simultaneous release on DTH (Direct To Home) along with the theatrical release has also received criticism and threats from theater owners. However the movie received most allegations from Islamic organizations including the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham (TMMK), who expressed concern over the depiction of the Muslim community in the movie.

a poster for Vishwaroopam

A poster for Vishwaroopam. Image courtesy Wikipedia

The biggest blow came on the 23 January, 2013 when the big screen release of Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam was banned by the Tamil Nadu government for a period of 15 days. The government said that it acted to prevent a possible law and order situation. All theaters were booked in advance for the first week prior to the January 25, 2013 release of its Tamil version. Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister Jayalalithaa defended the ban.

Kamal Haasan condemned the politics around this film saying that no rational, educated Muslim would have a problem with the film. Haasan took the matter to the Madras High Court, seeking an immediate rollback of the government ban. The ban on the film in Tamil Nadu was lifted by Madras High Court on January 29, 2013 following a special screening, but was later upheld on January 30. The Indian film fraternity has supported Haasan condemning the ban as an attack on freedom of speech.

Authorities in Malaysia and Sri Lanka are also considering a ban on the screening of ‘Vishwaroopam'.

Barring Tamil Nadu, the Tamil version of the film was released in India and abroad on 25 January 2013. The Hindi version Vishwaroop is due to be released on 1 February 2013.

Here are some Twitter reactions:

manishbytes: drama continues.. Centre and TN govt lock horns. but is one of them standing for my right to watch the released movie #vishwaroopam

akashtaker001: RT @shekharkapur: Vishwaroopam sends terrible message 2 filmmakers. Dont touch anything that could be sensitive politically culturally socially or on religion

rotalks: Also : WTF was that whole Vishwaroopam controversy about? Nothing in the film is negative unless you ARE the terrorists.Well put @mymalishka

Zara_Ahmad: My request to those watching #Vishwaroopam…enjoy it. But understand it is a fictional work and take it as just that.

dharatriv3di: RT @OQSpot: Art should be unshackled. Creativity unbridled. Support #Vishwaroopam & Kamal Haasan. He's artistic beyond compare. World needs to see this.

dhina225: RT @prakashraaj: Actors and directors from the film fraternity have come to stand by vishwaroopam.The movement is snowballing. Lets wait together for justice

Blogger Farzana Versey at Cross Connections points out that this saga has been a show of the fringe elements (those who can manage to find a herd and sponsors for their ideology):

The biggest mistake people make is to legitimise the FE (fringe elements). If the case is in court, how does the media discuss it? Can the filmmaker give a press conference?

The blogger questions Kamal Haasan's statement that he will leave the country:

As regards leaving the state or the country for a secular haven, that is how the fringe elements credo thinks. They use emotional blackmail. They too question secularism.

Center Right India blog says:

What is appalling are the veiled threats issued against Kamal and his films in this Press Conference, and the pedestrian attacks. As stated in my last post, I do not approve of or agree with Kamal’s political views, some of which I truly find repulsive. But what is more important is that this boorish medieval mob cannot be allowed to tell the rest of us what we can or cannot watch at gun point. No matter what we think of Kamal or his movies, the mob does not get to dictate terms to the rest of us.

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