Kollywood has been deafeningly silent on the removal of Nayanthara-starrer Annapoorani: The Goddess of Food from OTT (over the top) platform Netflix after Hindu right wing groups alleged that the movie hurt religious sentiments. This is the first time that a Tamil film has been removed from an OTT platform owing to opposition from right-wing groups. For an industry that has made several anti-caste movies questioning the status quo, Kollywood has surprisingly not condemned Netflix’s decision or extended support to the cast and crew of Annapoorani. Barring anti-caste filmmakers Pa Ranjith and Vetrimaaran, the rest of the industry has maintained silence over the issue.
Annapoorani tells the story of Annapoorani (Nayanthara), a Brahmin woman from the temple town of Srirangam and her aspiration to be among the top chefs of the country. Owing to her conservative upbringing, she faces several internal conflicts about cooking and eating meat, and defying her parents’ expectations of her, which she overcomes with the help of her friend and classmate, Farhan (Jai).
Trouble began for the makers, actors, and producers of the film when it began streaming in several languages including Hindi on Netflix on December 29, shortly after its theatrical release.
Ramesh Solanki, former Shiv Sena member and founder of the Hindu IT Wing, named actors Jai and Nayanthara, writer-filmmaker Nilesh Krishna, producers Jatin Sethi, R Ravindran, and Punit Goenka, Zee Studios Chief Business Officer Shariq Patel, and the head of Netflix India Monika Shergill in a complaint against the film. Additionally, another complaint was filed by activists of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
In the complaint filed by Ramesh, several allegations were made against the film, claiming that it offended Hindu sentiments— promoting ‘love jihad’ (a bogus concept peddled by right wing Hindu groups which claims that Muslim men marry Hindu women solely to convert them to Islam), mentioning that the Hindu deity Ram consumed meat, and showing the daughter of a temple prasadam (offering) maker cook and eat meat — to list a few.
Soon after, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed by the Mumbai police and three days later, the film was removed from Netflix.
The film had obtained appropriate certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and was released in theatres without any hassle. Despite this, after its Netflix release and the subsequent controversy, an apology was issued by Zee Studios, the producers of the film, clarifying that they had no intention of hurting the sentiments of any religion.
Amidst the silence of the Tamil film industry on this row, the film‘s lead actor Nayanthara also issued an apology and clarified that the film’s team never intended to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.
What is surprising here is that nobody from the Tamil film fraternity extended solidarity to the film‘s team despite the fact that Kollywood celebrities have always expressed their opinions over political events in the country and the state.
Suriya, for instance, came out with strong criticism of the Union government’s National Education Policy (NEP) stating that students from rural backgrounds will be at a disadvantage if it were to be implemented. Following the backlash he received, both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth extended their support to him and were critical of the policy, even if they were subtler than Suriya. Similarly, Suriya has also been consistently opposing the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for medical courses citing that students from disadvantaged castes and classes will find it difficult to clear it.
Similarly, actor Vijay had visited the families of the victims of the Thoothukudi shooting in 2019 and offered them a solatium of Rs 1 lakh. The victims were killed when the police fired into a crowd of people who were protesting against the functioning of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper due to the environmental pollution and health hazards the plant was causing. The actor did not publicise the issue nor issue a statement condemning the act and the state government but visited the families in the wee hours shortly after the tragedy. However, this act itself was seen as censure of the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and their poor management of the protests.
Apart from criticising governments in a personal capacity, the industry has also been making movies that question government decisions at the state and Union levels. Vijay’s Mersal, which released in 2017, had a monologue from the actor criticising the newly introduced GST which invited the ire of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and AIADMK governments. Similarly, Vishal’s Irumbu Thirai (2018) also delved into the risks associated with a Aadhar data breach. Owing to the strong Tamil sentiment and anti-Union government sentiment that has present in Tamil Nadu (and by extension in Kollywood), the industry is in no dearth of films that have provoked incumbent governments.
In this context, it is rather perplexing as to why big names in Kollywood have chosen to remain silent about Annapoorani. Industry insiders are of the opinion that the timing of the controversy and its subject could be a reason why Kollywood celebrities are choosing to remain silent.
A famous producer in the Tamil film industry told TNM, “The dialogue [about Ram eating meat] did not create any controversy when it came out in Tamil but only when it was dubbed and released on Netflix. Right now, it is an extremely sensitive time to make comments about Ram considering how there has been a lot of conversation around the temple inauguration in Ayodhya. These have always been sensitive subjects and more so, at the moment. Because of the current political climate, it is safe to assume that actors and filmmakers in the industry did not want to offend the larger sentiment surrounding Ram. Why would they want to make comments against Ram or Ramayana when the whole nation is talking about it?”
The producer also noted that Ram is more revered in north India than the southern states and it would be a financial risk for actors and filmmakers to offend a large chunk of the nation’s population at a time when ‘pan-Indian’ cinema seems to be the norm.
“The law did not say that this film had to be removed from Netflix. Neither did it ask the producers to issue an apology for hurting religious sentiments. But Netflix did not want to take a risk because there were calls to boycott it. They did not want to lose subscribers so they removed the movie. Such removals will affect the producer and the actors financially. Similarly, comments in support of the movie or agreeing with its message might translate into financial risks for the actors in the future which could be another reason for their silence,“ they added.