Cinema and societies : A collection of interviews


We keep hearing that the reason we don’t make the kind of cinema that other nations make is that our audience isn’t cine-literate enough, that they only want entertainment. Do you think stars have a responsibility to guide their fans towards a different kind of cinema?


The primary responsibility of a film person is to entertain. The audience comes to the theatre to be entertained. If they want a lesson in sociology they will go to a college. This entertainment, however, can come in different ways. I could entertain you by making a movie with cheap jokes, appealing to your baser instincts, or I could entertain you by making a movie which appeals to your finer sensibilities. Either way, my primary responsibility is to entertain. Having said that, I also believe that an entertainer has a much larger role to play in society, one that perhaps only he/she can play best. And that is to bring grace to society, to help build the moral fibre of society, to instil higher values in young children. This can be a great contribution in nation-building, and in creating a healthy progressive society. This, I believe, is the true role of an entertainer — in fact, of any creative person, whether musicians, artists or poets.

In the 1970s and even in the 1980s, our films used to hold a mirror up to society. We don’t see those kinds of films much any more. Does the average post-liberalisation Indian just not want to see hard-hitting films based on social and political issues?


I think there is an audience for these films. It’s not a huge audience but it’s significant. I think one of the things we need to do is have a chain of theatres across the country that only plays art-house cinema. This move will further the cause of offbeat films, and make it easier for that audience to know where to go to see the film. Independent cinema needs nurturing. If you screen the film in the same multiplex that’s playing a huge commercial film, then it will get crushed.

— With Kamal Hasan,

Is it not a paradox? Cinema has lost its respect but it is becoming more and more popular.

It will become popular… it has to… because it is such a strong medium. I don’t think of cinema anymore as contained in its aspect ratio, which is defined by technicians. Wisely, the British government and even [Shyam] Benegal saab called it “moving images”.

That is what it is going to be. And all our formating will change now. The way we consume… use cinema will change. In a way, we are coming closer and closer to the audience that there is no separate pedestal for the performer. Like Andy Warhol said, “everyone will get their 15 minutes of fame”.

Now in the time of the Internet, everyone can create their own cinema. I think that is the future of entertainment, as a very, very personal entertainment created by huge conglomerates who think, research and use your own fantasies to create your entertainment….

… The censorship… we have stopped making films for children because we are making, as a business proposition, films for everyone. We provide adult entertainment in children’s film and children’s logic in adult films.

In today’s Internet-savvy world, pornography is part of everyday life. If Internet search engines have become more and more powerful, it is not due to science… it is due to flesh. Everybody does it secretly once or twice. And the number is exponential when you look at the world population. Of course, there were other factors that made it flourish. But what triggered it was the simple need to watch flesh. It is the oldest profession and nobody will be able to eradicate it. It is now digitised. Not yet legalised.

What I am saying is, you tell them that you will not sell alcohol to people below a particular age… like that there should be adult entertainment. We must treat adults like adults. I am not talking only about sex. I am talking about politics. There should be political freedom. The kind of freedom that was available in Periyar’s time is not there for Kamal Hassan. Even if you are bold, you don’t have freedom. Even Veeramani [leader of the Dravidar Kazhagam, founded by Periyar] does not have it.

We have made the borders tighter and tighter and tighter. Because we think everybody has a voice and everyone can raise it for any reason. We are almost gagged. The undercurrent of my film Thenali is about the sufferings of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka. I took it in a subtle manner. Madras Cafe showcased one side of the story. Even if I wish to take a film on the other side of the ethnic issue, I will not be permitted to do so. For that matter, no film on the Sri Lankan issue could be contemplated. Here there is no freedom of expression. I, as a film artist, have no freedom, which writers such as Jayakanthan and Periyar enjoyed many years ago.

In social media, too, this intolerance is evident. People are threatened and bullied.

If you disagree with someone, prove him wrong. Don’t take a life to prove somebody wrong. The biggest shame in India is the killing of a man like [the rationalist Narendra] Dabholkar. It is a shame. I am very proud that amid all this confusion and chaos, Tamil Nadu has escaped whatever the north has suffered.

That is because of the tradition created by people like Periyar. The Self-Respect Movement.


I am a product of that. Where was I born? I was born with Suprabatham ringing in my ears. I used to pray two hours a day until I was 10 years old. It is only because of his [Periyar’s] influence on my brother, my uncle, and my father. They would scold him, criticise him, but they would chuckle at his wisdom. So he had fans in the opposition camp. And I came from that opposition camp. I never pretended to be anything else. I’ve lived a life like that. My cinema continues to speak of it [Periyar’s ideology].

When people use this medium for propaganda, I can use it to convey my belief. But I don’t want to convert anyone.




About Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
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