In January 2013, Rajinikanth penned a letter of support for Kamal Haasan when the Ulaganayakan was fighting with his back to the wall. This was when his 'Vishwaroopam' was opposed by fringe Muslim groups and Haasan suspected this was being done with the tacit approval of the Jayalalithaa government.
In a fit of rage and angst, Haasan threatened to leave the country, upset that he did not have creative freedom in his country, that a group of people could hold him and his work to ransom.
At that stage, Rajinikanth's willingness to stand by a friendless man was just what the doctor ordered for Haasan. Which is why eyebrows have gone up now when Kamal Haasan said movies were not on the discussion table when he met Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru on Monday.
Haasan met Kumaraswamy in the backdrop of the call given by the Confederation of pro-Kannada organisations, opposing the release of Rajinikanth's 'Kaala' in Karnataka. The Kannada outfits are angry with the Superstar's position taken in April that whoever comes to power in Karnataka should implement the Supreme Court order on Cauvery. A perfectly legitimate stand but the Kannada outfits deem it to be anti-Karnataka in nature.
Calling the fringe groups' bluff, actor-activist Prakash Raj has supported the release of 'Kaala', questioning what does the movie have to do with Cauvery. In the same breath, Raj, a Kannadiga, does not seem pleased with Haasan's reluctance to take up Kaala's cause with Kumaraswamy. He points out that during the 'Vishwaroopam' episode, Haasan expected everyone to stand by him.
The decision of the fringe groups to target Tamil movies over inter-state disputes is not new. This has happened with Rajinikanth before in 2008. At that time, after Rajini's comment on the Hogenakkal row, Kannada outfits refused to allow the release of 'Kuselan' in Karnataka. Rajini had to apologise for hurting sentiments, clarifying his expression “kick them” was targeted at lumpen elements and not at Kannadigas.
Last year, outfits in Karnataka took on 'Baahubali: The Conclusion' objecting to comments made over the Cauvery dispute nine years ago by Tamil actor Sathyaraj, who played Kattappa in the film. The makers of the movie including director SS Rajamouli had to distance themselves from Sathyaraj and the actor had to apologise before 'Baahubali' was allowed entry into Karnataka theatres.
Did Kamal Haasan act selfish in not using his newly-struck rapport with Kumaraswamy to talk about 'Kaala'? It could certainly be argued that Haasan could have broached the subject and sought the CM's help in ensuring the movie was released with police protection at cinema theatres. At this point in time, scared that Kannada outfits could vandalise theatres, exhibitors have backed out, choosing not to screen the Rajini flick.
Haasan, who was meeting the CM to discuss about Cauvery, could have elevated his stature by talking for his friend of over 40 years. Coming from Haasan, the plea would have been taken seriously as well. If Kumaraswamy, who has been a film producer himself, lets fringe groups decide what Kannadiga audience will consume, Karnataka under his watch will get a bad name. After all, the 'Padmavat' controversy did no good to the image of India.
The counter argument is that Haasan did not wish to dilute his position as the representative of Tamil Nadu farmers. He wanted to stay focused on discussing Cauvery with Kumaraswamy. Though after the formation of the Cauvery Management Authority, Karnataka will be bound by law to release water, the political class in the state in the past has not displayed the generosity to release water till its own demands were met. A dialogue, it is felt, will bridge the gap.
Two, Haasan himself is persona non grata in Karnataka as a movie star, with his 'Vishwaroopam 2' likely to meet the same fate as 'Kaala'. Given Haasan's position on Cauvery, Kannada groups will not let his movie release in Karnataka theatres. If he had batted for 'Kaala', he may have invited criticism that he is doing so with an eye on 'Vishwaroopam 2'.
Three, the Karnataka government is not exactly the main party in this dispute. Apologies in the past have been rendered to the fringe groups and having tasted blood, they are out to hunt for fresh scalps.
For Rajinikanth's 'Kaala' made at a budget of over Rs 150 crore, the Karnataka market is important both from a financial and a psychological angle. After all, Rajini was a Bengaluru boy till he made it big in Chennai. His 'Kabali' was sold in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mandya for Rs 11.5 crore and his 'Kaala' producer, son-in-law Dhanush, would not like to miss out on connecting with the significant Tamil-speaking population in south Karnataka.