“It is a matter of the self-respect of Kannadigas. Nothing is bigger than that,” says pro Kannada ideologue and founder of Kannada Chalavali Vatal Paksha, Vatal Nagaraj, who is blocking the release of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali - the Conclusion in Karnataka.
The serial protester has garnered the support of pro-Kannada groups and has made several speeches outside the Karnataka Film Chamber office in Bengaluru, calling for all Kannadigas to come together and demand an apology from “anti-Kannada Sathyaraj for insulting the people of the state” - Sathyaraj, a Tamilian who plays Kaatappa in Baahubali, had reportedly called Kannadigas 'dogs' during the Cauvery protests a few years ago. It is not known exactly when this comment was made.
The pro-Kannada groups have now called for a state-wide bandh on April 28, the day Baahubali – the Conclusion is set to release.
“Why are the producers blaming us and saying we are threatening producers, why can’t they convince Sathyaraj to issue an apology? If the producers feel that protecting Sathyaraj’s ego is bigger than the sentiments of Kannadigas, then we will go to any length to protect our self-respect,” said Vatal Nagaraj.
On the question of seeking an apology from the film's director Rajamouli, Nagaraj said, "Why should Rajamouli apologise for something he didn't do. Our problem is not with Rajamouli or the movie. How many times should we make it clear. Our problem is with Sathyaraj only. He has to apologise. We will not budge."
Siding with Vatal Nagaraj, President of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, Praveen Kumar Shetty, said that the bandh is not at all an inconvenience for people of Karnataka as it is a matter of Kannada pride.
“We Kannadigas live and breathe because of the river Cauvery. When a crisis was going on, he called Kannadigas dogs. He insulted us at the worst possible time. We don’t have a problem with any regional language film running in Karnataka theatres, and neither do we want to offend anyone from Andhra Pradesh or Telangana. We have a problem with Sathyaraj,” Praveen Shetty claimed.
“If his ego is so huge that he does not want to apologise, then let them change the actor in the film. We will let it run in our theatres,” he added.
He also said, "There is no question of Rajamouli apologising. He has never spoken anything ill about Kannadigas. Why are they not understanding our problem. We want Sathyaraj and only Sathyaraj to apologise. No, an apology from Rajamouli will not do. Sathyaraj should apologise and repent for the way he spoke about Kannadigas."
The pro-Kannada groups, which have been accused of threatening producers before the release of regional language films, rebuffed the allegations and said that they have protested only when the identity of Kannadigas has been threatened or insulted.
“We don’t want to threaten producers. They could have stopped this from becoming such a big issue by convincing Sathyaraj to apologise. Why is he being so stubborn? It is either that or he meant every word he uttered during the Cauvery protest and still believes that Kannadigas are dogs. Why should we allow his film to be screened when he has no respect for people from our state?” questioned Sa Ra Govind, President of the Karnataka Film Chamber.
On Wednesday, the makers of the blockbuster met with Karnataka Film Chamber President Sa Ra Govind and senior actor Ambareesh, asking them to consider the release of the film in the state.
But unfazed by the requests made by director SS Rajamouli, Sa Ra Govind refused to budge and said that they would call off the ban only if Sathyaraj came to Bengaluru and apologised to the people of Karnataka.
“The director is of the opinion that we are against the release of Telugu films. That is not the case. We have no issues with the film. We have a problem with actor Sathyaraj,” said Sa Ra Govind had said on Wednesday.
“When Sathyaraj, who is from Tamil Nadu, made anti-Kannada statements during the Cauvery crisis, he hurt the sentiments of Kannadigas. Why should we budge? I told Rajamouli to convince Sathyaraj to apologise. We will not change our stand,” he added.
Baahubali - the Conclusion, the sequel to Baahubali - the Beginning is set to release on April 28. The film will be out in Telugu and Tamil on the same day. With such strong opposition, it remains to be seen how the events will unfurl.