In the vortex of a controversial ban on his film Dam999 in Tamil Nadu, the director speaks to Subhash K Jha on why he needs to challenge censorship.
Are you moving court against your film's ban in Tamil Nadu?
I don't want to do that. Let the people in the rest of the country watch it. All the misconceptions will be cleared. We were ready with our legal advisers to go to the Supreme Court.
How do you respond to the ban on your film in Tamil Nadu?
It's very sad that this should happen in a state where politics and cinema are so closely connected. There are so many eminent politicians from cinema in Tamil Nadu. They should understand the medium and people like us who go through so many hardships to make a film.
The Tamil Nadu government feels your film might create disturbances in the state and harm its relations with Kerala?
My film has nothing to do with politics! It isn't meant to disrupt the harmony in the state or hurt the feelings of Tamilians. The saddest part of the issue is that they've imposed the ban without seeing my movie. At least they should see the film and then if they feel if it's not in Tamil Nadu's interests then we're ready to make the changes they want, or even agree not to screen the film in the state.
Have you tried screening the film for Tamil politicians?
My team has been in Tamil Nadu and Delhi for some days now. The film has already been censored and passed. It has been reviewed by the Censor Board two-three times already. They've give it a clean chit. What more do they (the Tamil politicians) want?
But even the '999' in the title seems to refer to Tamil Nadu's 999-year lease of the Mullayaperiyar
That's the date of the dam's collapse in my film, September 9, 2009. Once the Tamil Nadu government gets a feedback from the rest of the country where the film was released , they will know my film has nothing to do with politics, Tamil or otherwise.We understand the sentiments of Tamil Nadu. They're being goaded by political leaders.
Do you think it's wise and safe for Indian filmmakers to go into political themes?
My film is not about politics. It's a love story. We've shown an old dam built during Colonial idea being replaced by a new dam and the corruption therein.
Would you say all the controversies have generated more interest in your film?
Oh, definitely! The issue has worked in our favour. Now more people want to see the film. I'd say because of the controversies my film is getting a much better response than I expected. I am grateful to the Tamil Nadu government for generating so much interest in my film.
I believe you had a narrow escape in Chennai?
Yes. Just before I was to arrive for a press conference, they ransacked and plundered the whole venue. Luckily for me, my flight was delayed. If I had reached on time I'd be in a hospital right now.
Have you made any other films?
No. Dam 999 is my first film. Cinema was always my passion. But due to family pressures I became an engineer. But 2003 onwards I ventured into the visual media. I started a 24-hour TV channel. I also made a documentary on the Mullaperiyar issue. That is the root cause of my current problems.
It won several international awards.The political misunderstandings about my film can be sourced to the Mullaperiyar documentary. Because of my documentary even America is looking at the dam issue. But I haven't made Dam 999 for Tamil Nadu or about the state's politics. It is made for a global audience. I made Dam 999 to address a serious issue. There are many other good filmmakers who make straightforward entertainers. I am not one of them.
If the ban against your film is not lifted in Tamil Nadu will you move court?
Yes, we will wait for a week and then go ahead. Once my film has been censored, no government organization can stop it. Otherwise censorship is meaningless. By suppressing the film what kind of image of India's democracy are the protestors projecting to the outside world?