Viswaroopam: Multi-dimensionional learning curve
The saga involving the Tamil film Viswaroopam seems never ending. Irrespective of one's personal views on Kamal Hassan, his genius is unquestionable and his freedom of thought much more so. We need to segment this debate into two components, one is the issue with Viswaroopam and another the larger question of responding to criticism of organized religions.
Art per say is bound to question things; the root of artistic excellence is its ability in questioning the status quo on any issue. Needless to say, art cinema has always been an excellent medium for critical analysis of major historical issues that confront the country and the world across. As long as artistic freedom doesn't offend the sentiments of people by and large, then license to that art form is a birthright for any citizen in this country. The only way to counter an art form is not by banning that form with virility but hitting back with renewed vigour with art itself. A film's views should be countered by another film that contests the same theory the original film was suppose to espouse or propagate. Even in ancient Hindu texts, noble saints have always encountered opposing views with debate and rational reasoning and not malicious and whimsical attempts with violence. Not only does violence cause harm, it also makes a mockery of the core of any religion- peace.
As per my understanding of the movie from what my friends have seen, I do not think this movie would be a depiction of slander. In fact, I am told that this is a depiction of the particular community in a positive way. It is a story not based in India and its impact would be marginal if the movie was left alone during this time. In an age where technology seeps through everything, it is laughable that a 3 hour movie could create a law and order problem. This also highlights the lack of voice of the silent class- the silent class which never bothers to show its protest in earnest.
Peace loving Indians, the predominant majority, rarely wake up from their slumber. An issue like this movie is not worth the agitation that is called for but a serious of intolerant events over the years calls for greater introspection within social norms. It calls for the majority to stand up for issues such as this and show that fringe elements their right place. This is not an attestation to any single actor or his particular film, it is an urge to reinstate your right to do what you like as long as it is not against the law and doesn't hurt the sentiments of people. It's not about individuals; it's about a collective entity that needs to re-define civility that augurs well for everyone concerned.
Now, moving onto how the public debate has drifted towards over the days. I find a trend online wherein even a peaceful protest against popular culture especially cinema is being ostracized. This is something that is not encouraging. For example, I think it is extremely naïve for anyone to assume that Kamal's movies does not ever hurt sentiments of people. It indeed does at times. Over the years, I have heard a lot of educated upper class Hindu's who have had issues with his indirect sneering at Hinduism in his talks and his movies. This is particularly directed at times at the Brahmin community which is often spineless. While he has the free speech and right to question organized religions, one cannot deny the right to protest peacefully if someone is offended by what he says. Popular discourse has always been against giving the space for organized religions to provide their view point on issues and this disparity needs to be overcome if one has to have an inclusive society. Be it a Hindu or a Muslim community, as long as one is offended, one has to address the root causes of the offence and try to bring about a amicable solution. Secular thought is not by having a go at everything that is theistic and majoritarian in nature, it is about having an inclusive atmosphere that takes into account the apprehensions of every community at equipoise.
The bottom line is simple; if you have an issue with anyone's views, assuming its legally permissible, just fight it intellectually with another piece of art. However, as much as a popular art form has a right to question established norms, the people who espouse these norms also have a right to protest in a peaceful and non disruptive manner. Rabblerousing especially through violent and divisive means only reflects a deep sense of insecurity and intellectual bankruptcy with regard to the ideas that one claim are misrepresented.
This saga indeed provides a multi-dimensional learning curve for society at large.
This article was first published on rediff.com on February 5th 2013.
More about Sriram Balasubramanian
Sriram Balasubramanian is a Journalist, voracious reader, avid Blogger, social enthusiast and a believer in excellence not mediocrity. With an inherent passion towards journalism and writing, he believes in playing the "Straight Drive" all the time. Besides this, he has a MS in Engineering Management and has played Chess for Singapore.
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