Actor Sathyaraj, who is known to be outspoken, was forced to issue regret to the people of Karnataka after certain Kannadiga groups threatened to obstruct the release of his big budget film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.
Absurdly enough, the ruckus comes 9 years after the actor made an angry speech about the Cauvery issue and several of his films were allowed to release in the state without any controversy. And what a great coincidence (not) that the protesters should have woken up to this just days before the highly publicized film's release!
Director Rajamouli had attempted to appease the groups by reasoning that it would be his loss if the film was not allowed to release in Karnataka and not Sathyaraj's, but obviously his pleas only fell on deaf ears. This circus is not anything new - time and again celebrities have been targeted for expressing their view and forced to issue a meaningless apology.
The film business is fraught with risks and considering very few films make profits, big budget productions become sitting ducks for politically motivated groups who use the situation to show who the boss is and earn their five minutes of infamy (and cash).
Recently, Rajinikanth was forced to back out of a welfare programme in Sri Lanka after certain Tamil political groups objected. In his letter announcing his decision, it's apparent that Rajinikanth had not changed his mind about the event itself. The superstar's 2.0, produced by Lyca Productions which was also behind the event in Sri Lanka, is due for release later this year. And just like Baahubali 2, this is a big budget flick which will result in financial disaster if it tanks.
Lyca Productions has faced the brunt of such politically motivated objections previously, too. There were threats against Vijay's 2014 action flick Kaththi, produced by Lyca. The claim was that the production house supposedly had links with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then Sri Lankan president, who was behind the destruction of the LTTE and massacre of Tamil civilians. Surprisingly, the protests only started when the movie was just about to release, while the name of its producer was common knowledge right from the beginning.
“Many producers simply pay. The movie has to release and they are forced to pay up or face huge losses,” says an industry insider.
Rajinikanth's contemporary, Kamal Haasan, had recently spoken out about what had happened during the Viswaroopam controversy. The film was touted to be anti-Muslim, however, Kamal alleged that religion was only a cover for other intentions. He openly blamed the Jayalalithaa government for acting with vested interests at the time. Ironically, the actor is now facing the heat from certain Hindu outfits for his comments on the Mahabharatha which he'd made in the same interview.
After Trisha's Twitter account carried certain tweets supporting PETA, the animal rights organisation which was at the centre of ire during the jallikattu protests, the actor was not only virulently abused on social media, the shoot of her film Garjanai was also disrupted by "protesters". Trisha had deleted the tweets minutes after they went up, claiming that her account had been hacked. To further mollify the outrage, she added that she was a proud Tamilian. However, one wonders what other choice the actor had, considering she has several releases lined up this year.
Celebrities are often asked for their opinion about an ongoing controversy or political issue. And most times, they either offer no comment or give a boring, diplomatic response that says nothing. However, can they be blamed for not speaking up when there is so much at stake and they get very little help from the government when their films are under threat? In Maharashtra, the CM actually called a political outfit which openly made violent threats against Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil for "talks" which resulted in the filmmakers having to agree to the latter's demands.
Politics and the film industry are closely linked: many film stars see politics as an eventual career path; there are also huge sums of black money linking the movie business and politics. The relationship between the two is a "frenemiship" where film stars become easy targets when they fall out of the good books of political groups. The controversies which break out as a result have very little to do with the ideology or principles under which they are fought.
As long as we allow this arm twisting to happen so easily, celebrities will continue to remain distanced from expressing their views on social and political issues even if they wish to share their thoughts about it. It's easier for us to dismiss them as "dumb" than acknowledge the rot within the system that we're in no position to address even as we chest-beat about being the world's largest democracy.