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Muslim Profiling and Vishwaroopam

Saturday February 02, 2013 11:01:53 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

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Calm as 'Vishwaroop' releases, ban remains in Tamil Nadu

Subsequently, Kamal Haasan, who also stars in the lead role, agreed to make some cuts. Talks between his representatives and Muslim outfits have taken place in Chennai.   »

“Vishwaroopam” and Freedom of Expression

No 'bad Muslims' in my film: Kamal Haasan

Jayalalitha defends 'Vishwaroopam' ban, to sue Karunanidhi

Movie Vishwaroopam controversy that centers on profiling of the Muslim community has fallen into the quagmire of the hackneyed debate of right of expression vs right to protest.

The liberals are flagging off the freedom of expression agenda while those at the receiving end are vehement about asserting their fundamental right to protest for time and again being profiled as terrorist. The fire power of the media is used by the freedom of expression protagonist to convince their commands of wisdom are the final words on the subject.


Those being publicly being humiliated are using the democratic armory to score some brownie points. Call it vote bank or seize mentality, the government of the day has to take cognizance of the ground reality and cannot trample the voices of protest.

Who is winning and who is loosing the debate is left to the individual judgment as there are other nuggets in this story to be explored.

There is a tug of war between centre and the state in this controversy. The central government asserts that the state government cannot over rule the censor board’s approval for the screening of the movie and has to comply with the formalities.

The state government argues that when public peace is in jeopardy and law and order situation is to be tampered, the government is within the constitutional right to maintain peace as law and order is state subject over which central government has no over riding powers.. The state government seems to be convinced that public peace is paramount and banning the movie is for the larger interest of social good.

The judiciary too seems to be divided on the issue. When some theaters refused to screen the movie the court gave the advice to go for out of court settlement. When the state government came forward to ban the movie, a single bench overruled the government’s order. This was turned down by a dual bench that justified the ban.

The matter is to be heard in the Supreme Court and it is likely that the ban may be quashed citing precedents, but the question remains, will the release of the movie draw full houses or people may keep away from the theaters fearing untoward incidents.

A similar situation had emerged with the release of the movie Arakshan and “Jodha Akbar.” Both the movies were banned by the state government first and then the Supreme Court overruled and ordered the release of the film.

Even though the apex court has cast its judgment in favor of the film but many movie goers fearful of the shadows of the guns and the prospects of bomb blasts stayed away from the theaters. Both the movies ultimately became victim of their controversies.

The nineties have been full with movies that profiled Muslims as anti social and terrorist. The Hindi – Hindu – Hindustan formula of the majority right wing elements of India society that monetarily triumphed following the destruction of Babari Masjid, cast its spell on the Indian film makers.

A glut of films with negative shades of Muslim characters was produced. Kashmir and Pakistan provided the set piece for villainy. Obviously, if the plot was terrorism, then Kashmir and Pakistan has to be on the fore and the logical deduction was that the characters have to be Muslims.

In this added another big picture, the 9/11, and US quest for infinite justice and endearing freedom. The celluloid industry became busy churning out movies of good guys verses bad guys. The holier than though image was straight jacketed for the US and each of us were made to forget about the creators of the bad guys,

One can understand the Hollywood perspective, but Bollwwood and Kollywood falling in line had its own to axe to grind. It’s often discussed that the movies produced these days hardly have any connect with the Indian audience.

The plot centers on the Diasporas and meant for such international audience. The language, the dress, the location and many other such things are all foreign that’s plated to the Indian audience as a visual delight. The film makers do not realize that visual communication trap can’t constructed without it viewer’s base by treating the subject out of context.

The movie Vishwaroopam is a classical example of such visual fantasy. The plot that develops in the US, travels to Afghanistan and is plated to the Indian audience in the Tamil language. Which Indian audience can relate to such plot? It’s obvious that the audience that connected most to the movie were the Indian Muslims, who found their religion was being denigrated in the construct of villainy and hence chose to protest.

Vishwaroopam, the name screams that it tries to portray the shape of the world. And according to the world view of the film maker “all Muslim are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”.

When the controversy has reached its nadir, the question is asked is it the ignorance or the arrogance of the film maker that’s on display Vishwaroopam? Why the film maker did not thought of its viewers sentiments while padding up its visual contents.

Embarking on such superlative projects with prejudiced world view is bound to ruffle feathers. Can a film maker afford to do this in a market driven industry which judges the success of the movie purely on its cash returns.

Here a mention can be made about few movies that did the profiling of the Muslims with outmost sobriety tackling the same theme ‘Vishwaroopam’ tries to tread on. ‘New York’ ‘Kurban,’ ‘My name is Khan’ all tried present the problem of terrorism against the US in a holistic way. The Islamic content in the movie was wonderfully highlighted and this was well appreciated by the Muslim audience as well others.

A mention has to be made about the documentary Allah Hu Akbar (Allah is Great) that shows the protagonist Salim taxiwala, a devout Muslim who prays five times a day and has firm belief that Allah’s commandments runs supreme. He carries a foreigner in his cab to the airport and his follies in the journey make him miss his international flight. Little did this cab driver realize that his carelessness saved the life of the passenger whose flight was high-jacked by international terrorists who blew up the plane shouting Allah Hu Akbar. Such movie obvious has a straight connect with the Indian audience.

‘Vishwaroopam’ no doubt can be a great feast of celluloid presentation but its rough edges are bound to pike those whom it tries to paint in negative shades. This takes us another area and that is the approval certification for the screening of the movie given by the Censor board.

The movie Vishwaroopam has questioned the wisdom of the members of the censor board who has given it the clearance for screening without going into the repercussions it may attract from some section of the society.

Is the Censor Board Holy Cow that needs to be worshiped as an epitome of infallible truth and blindly approve all that it clears for public viewing?

The free flow of blood and gore, explicit sexual content fit to be called pornography finds its presence in the large body of the cinematic art that the censor board approves as fit for entertainment. Similarly, the censor board gives approval to the screen play, dialogue and even the lyrics that are full with innuendoes. There can umpteen examples of highly sexual and lewd content that is passed by the censor board as a form of cinematic expression.

Can we gulp such pulp fiction without making any hue and cry just because the censor board has approved it? The general view of movie goers is no film these days is worthy to be watched with family and children. Who will address their concern?

In this money spinning industry where astronomical amount is spent on the making of the movie, a trend has developed the seal can be bought by greasing the palms and the censor board is reduced to selling certificates for a price.

This view is held by a section of society who feels censor board is pedaling unsavory contents as artistic expression. They argue that growing crime in the society is directly proportional to the immoral cinematic content licensed by the censor board.

The counter argument runs that times are changing and so are societal values, it’s not the censor board but it’s the viewers that needs to change the mindset. It’s chick and egg syndrome and can be argued till the ‘cows come home.’

The way out to the ‘Vishwaroopam’ controversy is found in an out of court settlement with the group objecting to its contents. But is this the right way, is something that’s being debated. How long a movie or any piece of art can lean on the crutches of government or judiciary’s protection for its viewing. This question has to be addressed by those in the field of the creative art even before making their storyboards.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at



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