A 16-year-old film is at the centre of the latest controversy that has taken the Tamil film industry by storm. Directed by Ameer Sultan and produced by KE Gnanavelraja, Paruthiveeran (2007) marked the debut of actor Karthi, who starred alongside actor Priyamani in it. A decade and a half later, differences between its producer and director over the film’s funding has snowballed into a huge row. The financial allegations soon gave way for personal accusations against Ameer by Gnanavelraja, prompting several prominent film personalities to come out in support of the director. Through all this, the film’s hero Karthi and his brother actor Suriya have remained noticeably silent.
Paruthiveeran was an instant success when it was released in 2007. The film and the artistes earned several accolades, including Ananda Vikatan Cinema awards, Tamil Nadu state film awards, and the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award in the Berlin International Film Festival. Karthi won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor in his debut film and Priyamani, the national award for best female actor.
Paruthiveeran’s producer Gnanavelraja under the banner of Studio Green. He was the producer of most films starring the brothers Suriya and Karthi. However, Paruthiveeran, which was released 15 years ago, has now left them in a dispute, with several contemporaries of Ameer expressing solidarity with him. So, what is the controversy about? Here is all that unfolded in the past week.
The conflict between Ameer and Gnanavelraja has been going on for years, with the director even filing a case against the latter alleging non-payment of the money due to him. The case is still ongoing.
This time around, the issue came to the fore after ‘Karthi 25’, an event held in Chennai on October 28 that celebrated Karthi’s 25th film. The event was also a stage for the promotion of his 25th film Japan, which later failed at the box office. ‘Karthi 25’ turned heads, with important personalities who played a role in Karthi’s career in attendance, with the sole exception of director Ameer, who directed his first-ever film Paruthiveeran. Producer Gnanavelraja, however, was present.
In their speeches, both Karthi and his brother Suriya acknowledged Ameer’s role in Karthi’s career, praising his mentorship and thanking him. Yet, unsurprisingly, the fact that he was not invited did not sit well with the director. On November 6, when asked by the media why he was not present at ‘Karthi 25’, Ameer said that he did not go as he was not invited.
Soon after this, the scene turned chaotic, with Ameer levelling several allegations against Gnanavelraja, including that he was not given proper compensation and that the legal battle was excruciating.
To this, Gnanavelraja responded with the allegation that Ameer spent more than the film;s allotted budget. Gnanavelraja even said Ameer is a person who cannot be worked with.
In an interview with Behindwoods O2 on November 18, Ameer, without naming Gnanavelraja, alleged that a ‘third person’ had created a rift between himself and actors Karthi and Suriya. “All of you know Suriya as the star he is now. I know him as a friend. Karthi used to call me ‘anna’ … A bad incident happened because of a third person. He believed that only if there is a rift between us can he become stronger,” Ameer said.
He said that the dispute between him and Gnanavelraja is over the nearly Rs 1-1.5 crores that is due to him from Paruthiveeran times. However, he said that it was not money he was after, but justice.
Ameer even said that even though he was not paid, he had obtained loans and spent his personal money on the film.
On November 20, Gnanavelraja gave an interview to BehindwoodsTV saying that the way Ameer treated the lead actor at the shooting location [of Paruthiveeran] was wrong. He also alleged that Ameer overshot the film’s budget by nearly Rs 2.1 crores, taking the total expenses to Rs 4.85 crores when the initial agreement was only for Rs 2.75 crores. The producer also said Ameer’s “attitude” changed after he became a director and that “no one can work with Ameer”. He also alleged that even though Ameer had promised to finish shooting by six months, the film took nearly 2.5 years to complete.
According to Gnanavelraja, Ameer incurred a huge loss with the film Ram (2005), for which the director had obtained a loan of Rs 60 lakh from him. It was in return of the loan that Ameer convinced him to produce Paruthiveeran, said Gnanavelraja.
He also went on to say that he had watched Ram along with director Sudha Kongara and actor Karthi. According to Gnanavelraja, Sudha had said that Ameer did not know filmmaking, while Karthi had a “50-50 mindset” on the film.
Gnanavelraja’s allegations elicited another reaction from Ameer. In a press statement, the director said that he chose not to respond to the allegations through the media because the case is under the court’s consideration. He said that he wanted to issue some clarification as the rift between the two was being widely discussed in the media. “There is not even an ounce of truth in Gnanavelraja’s comments on Paruthiveeran and my journey in the film industry. All are fabricated lies,” he said, adding that it was a “planned propaganda” carried out against him with the intention of tarnishing his name and obstructing his job.
Ameer also alleged that except for the money given at the initial stage of shooting, Gnanavelraja did not make any further payments. “He halted the production midway and disappeared without providing any financial support for subsequent shooting, which I then continued under my banner Teamwork Production House,” he said.
Ameer expressed surprise that no other artistes who worked on the film had voiced their opinion in the matter. He also said that Gnanavelraja’s remarks about him have caused anguish to his family.
Actor-director P Samuthirakani was one of the first persons to react to the issue. He said that whatever Gnanavelraja said was “extremely wrong”.
“I was on the sets of Paruthiveeran for six months but did not see you there for even a single day. You claim that you are the producer of the film, but it was Ameer who made you a producer and Karthi a hero. How can you make such statements against him without any gratitude?” Samuthirakani asked. He added that Ameer had had to borrow several lakhs of rupees from others just to complete the film.
Stating that he cannot remain silent when Gnanavelraja is defaming Ameer, Samuthirakani further said, “Quarterway into the production, you [Gnanavelraja] withdrew funds and claimed to not have any more money. Suriya asked Ameer to keep the film with himself [as it is unlikely to be released].”
Samuthirakani also slammed Karthi for remaining silent on the issue. “I cannot accept how Karthi, who was on the ground at the time, is staying silent. Once even a friend of Ameer’s asked why we were struggling so much to finish this movie. Do you know what Ameer replied? He said, ‘We started it. This is Karthi’s future. I still remember the words Karthi’s father said when he handed over Karthi to me. I am doing it for them’,” he said.
Director Sudha Kongara took to social media to respond to Gnanavelraja’s remark that she had said that Ameer did not know filmmaking. She wrote, “February 2, 2016. I got a call from Ameer anna. I was driving outside Prasad Studios. I remember the exact moment because he was one of the first few from the industry to call and praise me for Irudhi Suttru. I just told him one thing then, my Madhi is inspired by Muthazhugu. I went on and on about one of the greatest female characters written by a man! I had made both the actors who played Madhi and later Bommi watch Paruthiveeran as a reference. And this is my homage to a master filmmaker of Tamil cinema. This is all I have to say.”
Veteran Tamil filmmaker Bharathiraja also came out in support of Ameer after the controversy broke out. Criticising Gnanavelraja for defaming the director, Bharathiraja said, “The problem with Paruthiveeran was a financial one but you have spoken in a way that has defamed an artist’s work, name, and creation. You should not forget that Ameer played a big role in shaping you as a successful producer. Before Paruthiveeran, Ameer had directed two films and produced one of them. Your claim that he learned his craft from your films is disrespectful to artists like me. A true artist is always learning till he dies. Even I have been learning till now. I believe you should express your regret for disrespecting an excellent artist, his work, and his honesty, and resolve the conflict amicably.”
Director-actor Sasikumar also responded by asking the Tamil Nadu Film Directors’ Association to take notice of the “spiteful words that came from” Gnanavelraja against Ameer. “Being silent is equal to hiding the truth,” he said.
Director-actor Karu Palaniappan released a statement saying that the issue was not over the Paruthiveeran controversy, but over the “false accusations levelled by Gnanavel”. He said that while there may be several disputes over Paruthiveeran, Gnanavelraja’s “character assassination” of Ameer was condemnable.
Veteran actor-director Ponvannan, who acted in Paruthiveeran, penned a long post supporting Ameer. According to him, the film’s shooting had been stopped midway due to a disagreement between the producer and director, and Ameer had obtained loans to complete the shooting. “There were issues between the duo for financial reasons ever since the work for the film commenced … Even though Gnanavelraja has all the rights to reveal his version of the story, there should be a limit to that. It is not acceptable to vilify someone, portray them as a thief, and speak poorly of their work, all for personal reasons, when their work has been recognized by the world,” he said. Ponvannan also asked the two to resolve the issues through proper channels.
Following the condemnation of his actions by other artistes, Gnanavelraja issued a clarification. “The issue surrounding Paruthiveeran has been going on for 17 years. I haven't spoken about it till now. I have addressed Ameer as ‘anna’ so far. Right from the beginning, I have spent time with his family also. I was hurt after seeing Ameer’s false allegations against me. If some of the words I used while responding to it hurt him, I express my heartfelt apologies. I respect the film industry that sustains my life and those working in it,” he said.
Director-actor Sasikumar slammed the statement, calling it ‘fake’. He also raised some questions: "What are the false allegations that Ameer levelled against Gnanavelraja? In his statement, Gananavel Raja wrote, 'if some of my words hurt you' — what are those words? After a planned assassination of a person’s character, what sort of apology is this? What is Gananvelraja trying to tell Ameer through his letter?"
Samuthirakani also slammed Gnanavelraja’s apology and demanded a public apology in the same manner that he had levelled the accusations against Ameer. He also said that Gnanavelraja’s interview should be “wiped-off” of social media, and the producer should pay what was due to Ameer.