Vishwaroopam: ‘This is the first Muslim hero in Tamil cinema’

Kamal Haasan’s new film Vishwaroopam recently became a victim of the growing intolerance in the country. In Tamil Nadu, some fringe Muslim outfits demanded that the movie be banned as it hurt their sentiments. They argued that the film is an extension of already existing stereotypes and paints Muslims as complicit in acts of terrorism, a contention which has spawned debate for a very long time now. After the protests, the film was banned in the southern state and the stalemate ended only after Haasan agreed to mute a few objectionable scenes. To put things in perspective, Hardnews spoke to Atul Tiwari, a leading theatre artist and scriptwriter who co-wrote Vishwaroopam with Haasan.

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

How do you look at the controversy that broke out over Vishwaroopam?

Naturally, one was saddened when one has worked on this film for three years and assembled a good team. Moreover, KamalHaasan is an agnostic. He believes in no religion. And he is equidistant from everybody. So when one is equidistant from everybody how can he be disrespectful to one? Likewise, I too have my own secular credentials. Coming from the city of Lucknow, these things are very personal but nevertheless.... And after that, with these sensibilities, when you go and make a film and suddenly a bogey is raised that you are hurting sentiments… Perhaps this bogey could be raised because this is the first time in the history of Tamil cinema that the hero was playing a Muslim character. None of the big stars of Tamil cinema like MGR, ShivajiGanesan, Rajnikanth or KamalHaasan, who has done 212 films, has ever played a Muslim hero. This is the first time he is playing a Muslim character. And people are already curious. Muslim! Why Muslim? 

Does this speak of a bias?

Dilip Kumar, in his entire lifetime, has played a Muslim hero in only one film, Mughal-e-Azam. So it is not just about Tamil cinema. This is about Indian cinema per se. Usually, the heroes have never been Muslim. As against Malayali cinema, which has had its own share of Muslim heroes. Perhaps because that society is more inclusive. That society is equally divided between Muslims and non-Muslims. I think it’s not because of any bias but because of a general market reality. You can’t say that Dilip Kumar is biased, he didn’t play a Muslim hero. Similarly, you can’t say that Tamil cinema is biased. But, generally, Indian society has had this feeling that the hero better come from the majority community. 

Do you see a political conspiracy?

I am sure somebody was not happy with him and that’s why they raised this issue. 

Are you pointing at the ones in power in the state?

No, I wouldn’t say that because I don’t know. There were some protests in Lucknow by the Firangimahlis, so can I hold the UP chief minister responsible for it? No! Sometimes, these issues are raised by little-known groups to gain name, fame and also money. It is the prerogative of the ones in power to rubbish them or to take them seriously. In this case, they were taken quite seriously. 

It builds on the existing stereotypes.

This is aesthetic criticism. You will have to make your own judgement. What you are saying is a critique. I am not here to defend. We did what we thought was right. This is not a question, but a critique that you are giving me and I should humbly accept it with a smile and make my own decision. 

I am seeking your views…

If my views were different, my product would have been different.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2013