Even before Kamal Haasan could begin shooting for his new film Sandiyar, it is running into trouble.
Written by producer-director Kamal Haasan, the story of Sandiyar has not been kept a secret. A high-profile launch took place in Madurai, but the choice of place itself came under attack from political circles.
Dr S Krishnaswamy, leader of the Puthiya Thamizhakam, a party of the dalits, is up in arms against Sandiyar. What has angered him is the film's title itself.
"Do you know what sandiyar means?" was the first question he asked me. "Sandiyar means a rogue, an anti-social, a rowdy."
Dr Krishnaswamy said the frequent communal clashes in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu were triggered by goonda (anti-social) elements in society. "Sandiyars are responsible for all the problems," he said. "And here, Kamal Haasan is glorifying such a sandiyar! The title of the film itself shows that the filmmaker acknowledges violence. He is making a hero out of a rogue!
"I am against the title itself. An anti-social element should not be given such social importance. I have nothing personal against Kamal Haasan or any other actor. Kamal Haasan will make the film, earn crores of rupees, and go away. Who will take care of the people if clashes erupt once again?"
Krishnaswamy accused Tamil filmmakers of using caste names to show the superiority of one caste over the others, thus creating problems in the villages. "From 1990 onwards, it has become a habit of many filmmakers to use a particular caste as the title of their film. For example, films like Chinna Gowndar, Thevar Magan. A song in Thevar Magan goes like this: 'Thevar kaladi mannu, pottu paredi penne...' He is asking the girl to apply [to her forehead] the soil [from] under the feet of a thevar! What is this? Does this mean the soil under a thevar's feet is so sacred? This song was used by the dominant community to subjugate the dalits."
Krishnaswamy sees a connection between such films and the growing casteist violence in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu over the last decade. And he fears that Sandiyar will reignite these clashes. "It took such a long time for the wounds to heal," he said. "Even though there is no intermingling of the two castes [the thevars and the dalits], there is peace in the villages. Why do you want to spoil all that we have achieved with so much difficulty?"
The dalit politician is also opposed to the image of a sickle used with the title, and accuses the filmmaker of trying to bring back the culture of weapons to Tamil Nadu.
Dr Krishnaswamy said his objections are justified because "in Tamil Nadu, cinema is closely linked with social and political life, unlike in any other state. In the last 50 years, most of the rulers have come from the film world. Whatever is expressed in cinema influences not only the political structure, but the social structure too."
He said he would request Kamal Haasan to change his film's title, failing which he would see to it the the movie's release is stalled.
The filmmaker, however, is quite unperturbed. The public relations officer of Rajkamal International said, "Kamal says, like his knowledge of politics is limited, Krishnaswamy's knowledge of cinema also is limited. Like he is not competent enough to talk about politics, Krishnaswamy also is not competent enough to talk about cinema. When he started the shooting of Maruthanayagam, then too there were some protests, but he didn't care. This time also, Kamal Haasan is going ahead with the film, come what may."