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According to various news reports, on Tuesday, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have called for a ban on 'Uttama Villain', actor Kamal Haasan's upcoming movie. The News Minute reported that the group claimed the film would affect the religious sentiments of Hindus.
The bone of contention, reportedly, is a song from the film called 'Iraniyan Naadagam', which recreates a conversation from ancient Hindu mythological text Bhagavata Purana. The characters in question are ancient demon Hiranyakashipu and his son Prahlada, with Haasan playing the asura or the demon.
According to legend, Hiranyakashipu was one of Lord Vishnu's gatekeepers along with his brother Hiranyaksha. However, after Hiranyaksha dies at the hands of the 'Varaha' avatar of Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu starts to abhor him and plots revenge. After gaining mystical powers and waging war against the gods, he has a son who, to his horror, grows up to be a devotee of Vishnu. The asura eventually becomes so angry at his son's devotion to his 'mortal enemy', that he decides to kill him.
In 'Iraniyan Naadagam', whose lyrics have been penned by Haasan himself, a conversation takes place between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada. The song opens with words that roughly translate to, "Come here, my good-for-nothing son. The one who is going to insult me more than do any good. I'm the supreme power and god you should worship to. Worship and pray to me, not to the god you do."
Haasan, who is playing the demon, ends his monologue with, "The prayer you should be saying is Hiranyaya Namaha." However, Prahlada is depicted as defying him and saying "Om Narayana Namaha" in deference to Lord Vishnu, causing Hiranyakashipu to breathe fire in enragement. This entire conversation is presented as a tastefully-shot dance drama.
Are you, at this point, wondering what on earth is controversial and/or offensive about all this?
IANS quoted VHP member K L Sathiyamoorthy as saying that the lyrics of the song would offend followers of Vishnu as it "belittles the conversation between Prahlada and Hiranyakashipu." This was cited as reason enough to want to ban the film.
However, according to Sudhish Kamath, film critic and former assistant editor at The Hindu, the reason for this outrage seems to be nothing more than old-fashioned headline-grabbing. "This is a routine thing that happens every time there is a Kamal Haasan film releasing," says Kamath, who has written on cinema for over a decade and a half. After listening to the song, he says that the outrage seems to be targeted at the fact that Haasan is playing the demon and even wrote the lyrics.
Haasan has been targeted regularly by right-wing and nationalistic groups for more than 20 years, since the release of 'Thevar Magan' (1992), says Kamath. "His [Haasan's] atheism and general liberalism don't go down too well with members of such groups, which is why they exploit opportunities when his films are about to come out," he says.
Clearly, the best thing to do, therefore, is to treat this piece of news with the attention that it deserves.