A sobering lesson for His self-appointed soldiers

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: There are still a few days left for the year 2007 to end, but do we already have a clear winner in the Mythological Man of the Year category?

Maryada Purushottam Sri Ramachandra aka Lord Rama.

The Archaelogical Survey of India filed a writ petition in the Ram Sethu issue stating He did not exist, and then backpedalled. Next, Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi called Him a drunkard and questioned His engineering skills. His (Karunanidhi’s) West Bengal counterpart Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee piped in softly, and then claimed he was misquoted.

Enter Prem, the director of hit Kannada films like Jogi and Excuse me.

Prem’s latest offering Preeti yeke bhoomi-mele ide is due for release on Friday. And like Rajiv Gandhi‘s government proscribed Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses without even reading the book, the oxymoronic Sri Ram Sena has gone on the rampage even before the first show of the film, almost as if to prove the film’s title right.

Foot soldiers of Lord Rama’s Army launched by the former BJP loose cannon, Pramod Mutalik, stormed the premises of the movie’s producers Ashwini Studios today, broke furniture and window panes, heckled the producer Ram Prasad, foulmouthed the director, and warned against releasing the film.

Reason: The lyrics of the “Sullu, sullu” song in the film (sung by Kailash Kher and Shankar Mahadevan) has these two lines:

“Rama Hanuma sullu, Sita mata sullu/
Ravana kadiddu sullu, Lanka suttidu sullu”

Rough transliteration: Rama, Sita, Hanuman are untruths, Ravana‘s stealth is an untruth, Lanka’s torching is an untruth.

In a gripping two-hour interaction between director Prem (who also wrote the lyrics of the contentious song) and the “brigadier” of the Bangalore wing of the Lord’s Army, a chap called Vasant Kumar alias “Bhavani“, on TV9, the full scale of the tragicomedy called creeping censorship—the “Taliban mindset” as Soli Sorabjee put it—became clear.

Brigadier Bhavani wanted the two lines deleted. Correction, he only wanted the first line with the three names deleted; he did not seem to have any problems with what Ravana did to Sita or what happened in Lanka.

He said the lines were an insult to the Hindu icons. He claimed the lines were deliberately inserted to exploit its potential at the “box office”. He said the lines were objectionable especially at a time of mounting conversions. And he openly warned against the movie’s release with the song in its existing form.

Taakath idre release maadi,” Brigadier Bhavani blazed on air. Translation: if you have the guts, release the film.

At Ashwini Studios, he had told a police officer very audibly: “You know what happened when Karunanidhi made his statement (two people were burnt alive in a bus). We won’t be responsible if it happens again.”

Prem might like look like a nice rustic boy in the urban woods, who got lucky when Rakshitha chose him for a life partner. But the boy from Mandya is, if nothing else, studio smart.

Have you seen the film, he asked. Do you know who wrote the original lyrics? Do you know how I chose this song? If the movie-goers of Karnataka think the lyrics are objectionable, I will cut it out.

Prem said he had been inspired by Santa Shishunala Shariff, the 19th century saint-poet.

The moment the Muslim sounding name was uttered, Brigadier “Bhavani” was flaming saffron. “We don’t believe Shariff,” he said. When TV9 anchor Ranganath Bharadwaj explained Shariff’s place in the hearts of decent Kannadigas, the brigadier backtracked. “You didn’t understand me. I only said we don’t believe Shariff wrote that.”

Prem was undeterred. He said he got hundreds of folk artists to hear the song and they had all appreciated it. And, by the way, do you know the context of the song in which these lines appear?

The context: there are two characters, clearly indicated by the choice of two singers. One of them is a believer, the other is not. The non-believer utters the lines the Ram Sena is quoting. The believer then responds with these lines.

“Hey, ninna nijave ondu sullu/
nee bayosodella sollu, nee baduko reeti sullu”

Rough transliteration: What your truth is an untruth, what you seek is an untruth, the way you live is an untruth.

In other words, the whole song is a conversation in which the believer contradicts the non-believer. In the end, the song actually underlines the existence of Rama and Sita and Hanuman, which is presumably what the foot soldiers of Sri Ram Sena want to be underlined.

But Brigadier Bhavani would have none of that creative licence. Kannada movie goers are not so mature to catch such a nuanced message, he said.

Don’t underestimate Kannadigas, warned Prem.

From Hubli, commander-in-chief Pramod Mutalik chipped in: “Why only Rama, Sita and Hanuman,” he thundered. “Why couldn’t you add Allah and Christ and say they too did not exist?” Because they do not figure in our janapada.

The wise viewers started calling in with their queries: Why don’t the Ram Sena troops do something more concrete to help Hindus, like, say, when Dalits are attacked in villages? How can you protest about something when you have not seen the actual work and context? Instead of amicably seeking the removal of the offending lyrics, how can you provocatively demand the insertion of other religious heads?

Then assorted producers and directors jumped in: Why didn’t you react all this while since the movie’s audio has been around for six months? If the censor board had okayed the film, what’s your problem? Why didn’t you approach the film chamber of commerce? Or the producer or director? Why are you indulging in this propaganda on the eve of the movie’s release? How can you indulge in this kind of vandalism and put crores of rupees at risk.

Brigadier Bhavani made vague noises. He said there had been court cases but the petitioners had withdrawn their plaints. He said the Sri Ram Sena had sent a letter to a distributor in Hubli. He said the director or producer didn’t have the courtesy to call them and ask what their objection was.

“If you knew the location of the producer’s office today, why didn’t you go there all this time if your intentions were honourable?” asked one viewer.

Struck dumb by the viewers’ (and film fraternity’s) lack of empathy to join the cause, Brigadier Bhavani was stumped. he tried to sneak in a cheap jibe on how Prem had paid Rs 60 lakh or Rs 70 lakh for Mallika Sherawat to perform a cabaret in the movie. How do you know it’s a cabaret, shot back Prem.

Finally, Brigadier Bhavani could take it no further. He said in an exasperated sort of way: “Ee prashnegalanna keluthaa iddre, nachike aaguthe.” Exact translation: Listening to these questions, I feel ashamed.

Ashamed perhaps that the “humble peoples of Karnataka” are not adding fuel to the communal kettle that is on the slow boil before the elections?

Niranthara suddigaagi noduttha iri TV9.