The culture of `cultural terrorism`: How much longer?

By Ananya Bhattacharya | Updated: Feb 01, 2013, 00:15 AM IST

While listening to Kamal Haasan addressing the media some time back, and when the veteran actor almost seemed on the verge of his tolerance, there`s a certain chord that has been struck. Somewhere from within the core of the heart, a feeling of empathy reaches out to Haasan. The actor - buckling under pressure - has ripped bare that face of politics that people usually want to sweep under the carpet. He and his `Vishwaroopam`, being the rallying point of protests from Tamil Nadu first and several other parts of the country later, has brought before us that very question, yet again, where is cultural freedom in this country of ours?

Kamal Haasan`s `Vishwaroopam` being the case in point, celebrities and films are indeed becoming soft targets here. A country which celebrates its status of a `secular republic` with such enthusiasm, doesn`t hesitate to slam a ban on something as harmless as a film with even more enthusiasm. As far as freedom of an individual is concerned - and more so of an artiste - one might as well rest in peace.

Controversies, protests, sparking off a blame game - a handful in the higher echelons of power don`t ever shirk from any of these. When somebody as unimportant as Hafiz Saeed or Rehman Malik wanted to provide `security` to Shah Rukh Khan, the receiving end of all the blame - mostly - was Khan. And for no fault of his. The actor had to address the media in words that clearly portrayed what Khan was - an Indian first, and then anything else.

Kamal Hasaan, now, is another facet of the dirty politics that certain people play - and get away with it without even soiling their hands. His film, `Vishwaroopam`, has been banned in parts of the country, despite being cleared by the Censor Board - which, by the way, is a `national` body.

In a way, it is pretty easy to target a celebrity. Any gossip, any shadow of a scandal, any controversy - sells best when it is a denizen of filmdom at the centre of it all. People lap it up with a crazy eagerness. And if there`s a religious side to it, nothing could be better than that. Many films have earlier been banned, many books have faced taboos, many artistes have been forced to take up residence elsewhere. The shame is ours. As a country, we`ve fallen prey to certain exponents of bigotry for whom nothing feels better than slinging mud at someone else - someone, who they are aware, is way more famous than them and command a lot more attention than what they could have ever dreamt of doing.

One thing is for sure. If an artiste like Kamal Haasan is compelled to leave the country, we will need to hang our heads in shame. It is a loss for India. The way MF Hussain was when he took up the citizenship of Kuwait, the way Salman Rushdie was when he was banned from attending the 2012 Jaipur Literature Festival, (and now will not be visiting West Bengal) the way so many others have been when they left the country for good. We indeed are falling prey to a `cultural terrorism`, as Kamal Haasan so rightly puts it.

Cultural terrorism is there in the fact that someone whose film is in the production stage at the moment, is so scared. Scared of something which, in another world, might have sounded horribly funny. In another world. Or country, perhaps.