Movie censorship

Tamil Nadu minister Jayakumar’s threat to the ‘Kaala’ soundtrack betrays his ignorance of history

He fancies himself as a singer, but wants to ban film songs.

Tamil Nadu Minister D Jayakumar has transformed a great deal since the death of his leader J Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016. When she was alive, Jayakumar and his ministerial colleagues saw political virtue in complete and often deafening silence. One could hardly recollect an instance when Jayakumar conducted impromptu press briefings when Jayalalithaa was alive. But these days, he has embraced the microphone, often exercising his freedom of speech to take on his rivals.

Does Jayakumar believe, however, that the freedom of expression is his exclusive right? On Wednesday, when Tamil Nadu was listening to the just-released songs from the Rajinikanth-starer Kaala, the minister took exception to the lyrics. He compared Rajinikanth to a “kaalaan”, or mushroom that sprouts during the rain and perishes quickly.

jayakumar also warned that if Rajinikanth’s intention was to create confusion among people through cinema, the government will act according to law.

The law of the land does not permit arbitrary censorship. Once a film and its songs are cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification, no government can impose restrictions. Of course, nothing stops politicians from using unlawful methods to stall a movie, like Tamil Nadu did with Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam in 2013. But courts often decisively intervene to save the day. Jayakumar should realise trying to censor a movie is a battle that the government will eventually lose.

Jayakumar has also betrayed an ignorance of history. Tamil Nadu politics, especially the Dravidian version, was primarily built on the platform of cinema and searing film songs. In fact, one of the reason Jayakumar enjoys power is because his party founder, MG Ramachandran, was fortunate enough to act in songs with inspiring lyrics that directly questioned people in power.

Some people would say a few of these songs are still relevant today. In Yethanai Kalam Thaan Ematruvai Intha Naatile from Malaikallan (1954), MGR wonders how long rulers will continue to cheat people by posing as honest men.

Yethanai Kalam Thaan Ematruvai Intha Naatile, Malaikallan (1954).

No song was more political that MGR’s Naan Aanaiitaal from Engal Veettu Pillai (1965). When he eventually left the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and formed the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972, this song became an anthem for the party: “Silar asaikum thevaikum, vaazhvukkum vasathikkum, oorar kaal pidipaar, oru maanam illai, athil eenam illai, avar eppoathum vaal pidipar.

Roughly translated, Vaali’s lyrics means some have no shame and turn into sycophants to fulfill their needs. Social media was full of references to this song when ministers fell at the feet of Jayalalithaa’s aide, VK Sasikala, in January 2017 and wanted her to take over AIADMK.

Naan Aanaiitaal, Engal Veettu Pillai (1965).

Since MGR’s songs are still being used to mock people in power, will Jayakumar ban them too?

Of course not. That is because Jayakumar is a big fan of MGR, and fancies himself as a singer too. Here is Jayakumar singing his hero’s song at a public function.

Jayakumar sings an MGR song.

For a minister who claims to be a member of the Dravidian movement to say he will initiate action against film songs if they cause trouble politically is irony shooting itself in the temple.

When the great music composer MS Viswanathan died in 2015, another legend, Ilaiyaraaja, made a crucial remark after he paid his respects. MSV’s tunes and Kannadasan’s lyrics were the reason the Dravidian movement took root in Tamil Nadu, Ilaiyaraaja said.

Songs such as Engal Dravida Ponnade from Maalaiyitta Mangai (1958) and Acham Enbathu from Mannadhi Mannan (1960) defined the times and were a direct challenge to the Congress party’s version of nationalism. The songs instilled in people the pride of language and race, which led to the Congress’s eventual defeat.

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