PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: What’s in a name? What’s the problem with making a film entitled Masti?
Sure, the film isn’t a biopic on the life of Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Jnanapith award winner, who is known as Kannadada Asti. Rather, it is on the life of a notorious underworld figure from the 1970s, widely known as Mastiyappa. There ought to be no question with regard to whom should Kannadigas remember fondly and respectfully.
From all reports, it appears as if producer Ramu, director Shivamani and hero Upendra didn’t know about Masti, the writer. Nor could they appreciate the intensity of protest against using this title by Kannada writers and activists of Kannada Rakshana Vedike, who in fact, attacked Ramu’s office aggressively and somewhat violently, manhandling Ramu and Upendra among others. Shivrajkumar apparently intervened, pacified the protesters and brokered a deal, forcing the filmmakers to withdraw the name.
All the Kannada dailies have reported this controversy at some length but we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.
Have we, Kannadigas, become too sensitive? If we begin to protest against using names such as Masti (or Hubli, Tirupati, Mandya or Shiva) as director Shivamani pointed out, where and when will this end?
Will a film on the life of a criminal (even if it celebrates such a life) make a community forget one of its most important writers? If that is the case, shouldn’t we be more worried since such amnesia is a symptom of a deeper malaise in our culture?
What about the methods of Kannada activists? Will the cause of Kannada be protected by violent and aggressive posturing against perceived slights and alleged transgressions? Is “mettu tagandu hoditivi” (we will beat you with chappal) the appropriate response, even after factoring the injured sentiments?
Masti himself was a man of graceful conduct, cultured behavior and refinement. Doesn’t beating up people to protect his name go against the Masti spirit?
Shouldn’t our sensitivity and love for language, literature and culture lead us to read writers like Masti instead of merely celebrating whatever we celebrate? How do we choose to remember such writers? Only through beating up other people in their name or further our political interests on occasions such as this?
Ravi Belagere offers a reasonable argument in a brief intervention. He suggested: “Masti isn’t merely the name of a village. It is the popular form of the term Mahasati (great wife). When a warrior dies in the battlefield, his wife would commit suicide and thereby comes to be known as a brave woman. She is a mahasati. In her name, there is an agrahara, village, which has now become Masti.” Such subtleties are beyond cinema people.
I agree with Belagere. But I also expect more of us, as Kannadigas. A community should be able to distinguish between a gentle writer and a violent criminal, even if they share the same name. If it doesn’t, if it can not, then no activism can save that culture. Surely, if we want to emulate Masti, the writer, then deploying the criminal’s methods to save the writer’s name is an offense that we should be cognizant of and try to avoid at all costs.