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Feb 12 2013

Age of Kali – Vishwaroopam and Censorship

So I managed to watch Vishwaroopam. For those who are unaware of the “controversy”, there is really none. But basically? A bunch of Islamic and Muslim organisations demanded that the movie be banned or heavily censored because of it’s alleged portrayal of Islam. Since the material involved a Jihadi plot out of Afghanistan, it kind of discussed islamic terrorism and the jihadi lifestyle.

There are however idiots. The kind of idiots who ban freedom of speech, the kind of people who threaten Taslima Nasrin and Rushdie.  Shame on India for actually censoring it.

I kind of agree with Taslima. The idiots who wanted to ban this boiled down to “Stop Portraying the Taliban and Jihadis as Militant Fundies Who Believe in Islam. People will think Islamic fundamentalists are all wankers.”

Stuff that was censored? Killings of american hostages, prayers recited, prayers recited during executions, whippings. You know… these are things that have happened in real life. It’s funny that a guy getting blown in half and his head and torso landing in a bloody heap is shown in bloody and loving detail but not events that have actually happened. I wrote about a  woman executed due to a faulty legal system created by fundie Islam. Hanging people from Cranes was done in Iran. Beating (even killing) people who danced and sang has occurred in real life. There have been child soldiers thrown to the teeth of the American Warmachine ™ with nothing more than a Soviet Era AK 47, inferior ammunition and promises of paradise. Fundamentalist Islam is the absolute fucking nadir of humanity. It is anathema to humanity and pointing out the vicious nature of such a faith is not wrong. Particularly when pointing out that there are muslims who think as we do. That the fundies are the nadir of humanity and that they are poison to Islam.

And it shows. The people who censored this rather silly movie. There is a random Samurai Sword Fight and a ludicrous wire fight scene… This is Die Hardesque (Maybe Die Hardersque) not Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy…

It’s actually amusing. The idiots who whined about it have done more to harm to Islam than the atheist who made the movie because they indulged in the very behaviour that the Director (and Hero) were trying to portray as bad. The “Fundie” Side of Islam. Because no matter the attempt to portray the Jihadi in a sympathetic light, it fails miserably because of the idiots trying to censor the message.

Bad Points? When Will Indian Cinema learn that you do not need a love interest to make the movie work. Particularly a “floppy useless one”. His wife felt like she was cellotaped into the plot. Stop It. It’s stupid, it actually makes the movie feel stupid. It’s a stupid trope in western cinema, it’s an even stupider trope when done in a medium that doesn’t portray women well.

Want to know something funny? Katherine Bigelow’s Hurt Locker was released here without ANY cuts and that’s portrayal of Islam was far worse.

The weirdest thing is? The cuts they made to the Tamil (native) version actually made the movie “better” particularly if you know why they made them.

There was a scene where they hanged an innocent man (the Hero’s spy gear got this man in trouble). The original had them recite the Koran (it’s clear what he is reciting since the reciter is a freaking priest!) while the man about to be hung incorrectly begged for his life. Now the imam in the scene speaks the verses silently while the prisoner begs audibly. It’s a surprisingly artistic scene despite the relatively non-subtle tone of the movie. But I realised it was actually the censorship in action…

Knowing that did more damage to Islam and did more to cement the image of Islam as the knee jerk religion of fundamentalists than the actual movie itself. It turned a scene about what he has had to do in the name of being a spy (a surprisingly subtle thing in an indian mainstream movie) and gave it more power and made it about the cultural insanity that is Fundie Islam. Knowing why the Imam has no voice does more damage to the image of Islam than any other part of the movie.

Because to the fundamentalist Muslim  the words of a terrified man about to die in a brutal manner is not as insulting to them  as the portrayal of themselves.

Go Watch It. It’s not thought provoking, it’s just a Tamil blockbuster. What’s thought provoking are the changes to it.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    sanjay kumar K

    While i do appreciate that Islamic fundamentalism and the attendant terrorism is a big challenge to humanity, although i would contest that it is not the biggest (the worthy contenders for that would definitely be liberal market regime and climate change)…
    the same medium particularly tamil movie industry which glorify caste hindus as heros, which are misogynistic, where marginalised people as heros is almost non existent, films like VSPRM actually end up reinforcing the stereotypes that all terrorists are muslims thingy…
    this is a nuanced ground i am taking without diluting the harm Islamic fundamentalism can cause…
    in this movie industry unlike its northern cousin in Bollywood, muslims have to rechristen their names to be acceptable as heros, hence a Shamsuddin becomes Shaam (to sound more hinduish) or Jalaluddin as Arya (again Hinduish)…

    also in a state and as a Country as a whole, where Muslims face sly apartheid be it getting houses or jobs, it does not sound honest from an atheist director for commercial interest to portray such stereotypes to alienate them further…it came to me as surprise and shock that none of the odd films which came up in the last 100 years of this movie industry had a muslim as the lead and when it came like this one, he had to speak about terrorism or associated with it…

    do hindu heros speak up about casteism in the movies for a balance?

  2. 2
    Avicenna

    Have you seen it?

    He discussed Jihadis. He was not discussing “Muslim Shopkeepers” but men who believe in fundamentalist Islam who kill for their faith. He is discussing men who become suicide bombers and the faith that stones women to death and mutilates thieves. He also pointed out what drives them and how the collateral damage we inflict triggers the revenge culture of Afghani jihadis.

    This is not anti-muslim anymore than Kingdom of Heaven is anti-christian. If you make a movie about the Crusades you have to show Christian Fundamentalists and if you make a movie about Jihadis then you have to make a movie about Islamic Fundies. Are you honestly saying that fundamentalist muslims have never stoned anyone to death? That the Taliban hasn’t sent young men to deaths by creating a culture of absolute “suckiness” to the point that a fictional paradise seems enticing? That Islam mistreats women? That Fundie Islam has shut down schools and mutilated those who have tried to bring education? That Fundie Islam has threatened and even murdered those who bring healthcare?

    No Muslim would make such a movie because few would ever want to be subject to the level of hate that people like Taslima have been subjected to. Would you willingly put yourself in the firing line? The muslim nurse who works with me takes her headdress off when I work and rolls up her sleeves. Taslima and Rushdie have shown the price for speaking out against fundamentalists.

    Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see the caste of the actors. Most people do not. Many of the actors portray lower caste individuals and despite what we think, there are a lot of movies about rural life with rural heroes. In fact Vijay’s entire “trope” is “low caste, low income everyman”. It’s why a lot of Tamil cinema still uses artforms such as Kutthu which are considered “low caste” and “dirty”.

    Sometimes the answer is simpler than you think.

  3. 3
    sanjay kumar K

    Ram,
    ///Are you honestly saying that fundamentalist muslims have never stoned anyone to death? That the Taliban hasn’t sent young men to deaths by creating a culture of absolute “suckiness” to the point that a fictional paradise seems enticing? That Islam mistreats women? That Fundie Islam has shut down schools and mutilated those who have tried to bring education? That Fundie Islam has threatened and even murdered those who bring healthcare?///

    this sort of strawman is what i wanted to avoid with my comment…the fact is in India post independence it has been the poor, marginalised viz., muslims and dalits (more than 90%) who have been at the receiving end of caste riots or religious riots…yet they are the ones who are routinely caught by police for interrogation…

    Just giving you a plot of mine…there is this devout muslim is played by Shamsuddin (not by his pseudonymn Shaam) who follows islam religiously and is a CBI officer and is a typical family man, who loves kids, his wife, his neighbours, respects his parents/elders, a model citizen…. He is looking out for a hindu terrorist who yells “jai shri ram” everytime he orders someone to be killed. The hero manages to foil the attempt by killing this villain (this is an inversion of character sketches of standard tamil film potboiler). Do you think films of this plot will ever be allowed to release in India or tamilnadu?

    if you think vishwaroopam is merely stating the facts, then i can clearly see “system justification fallacy” here

    much of the heros in tamil movies are from either upper castes or intermediate castes like devars, nadars…for example film like Sanda Kozhi or Singham openly proclaim about the caste nature of the hero…the underlying hindu myth of good triumphing the bad in these films invariably use the other to depict the evil or make demons…like from dalits or muslims

    if you think i am stretching my argument do read these links…my initial reaction was similar to yours…but in India the marginalised who should exercise the maximum freedom of expression are often curtailed to express themselves and go to the other extreme of asking for outright ban…do read these links if you want substantiation

    jihadi fundamentalism and linking an Indian muslim viz., a tamil muslim is highly mischievous considering that films do shape up public opinion and it furthers demonises the victims…post 9/11 paranoia of US media being a case in point

    http://capi.uvic.ca/sites/capi.uvic.ca/files/Mallhi_-_Illusion_of_Secularism.pdf
    http://www.academia.edu/1215240/Imagining_Indian_Muslims_Looking_Through_the_Lens_of_Bollywood_Cinema
    or read this extract from this link:
    http://kafila.org/2013/02/09/we-remember-gujarat-2002-and-we-know-youre-lying-about-development/
    //There the team brought up the question themselves – “Do you know who we are?” they asked towards the end of their stay. The children guessed, “Bhai-behen? Mian-biwi?” No, no, do you know what our religion is? They guessed again – Sikh ho? Isai ho? The two of us are Hindu, Bhrigu explained. Ho hi nahin sakta, (it’s not possible), the children were confident. “Hindu” was a word they associated with terror, with fire, with frightening shouts of Jai Shri Ram, with fleeing in the night. These children were playing games of Hindu toli versus Muslim toli in the camp – of course it was inconceivable to them that any Hindu would have spent this time playing with them and making them laugh.//

    or the Dhule violence where the police took openly communal position and shot at Muslims…

    //The religion wise break up of percentage violence victims is very painful observation, the percentage of Muslims amongst riot victims is close to 90% (their population as per the census of 2001 is 13.4%) The type of attitude taken by police is by and large stereotypical and regards them as the trouble makers and police believes that they can bring these Muslims to heels through bullets and batons.//

    http://www.countercurrents.org/puniyani280812.htm

  4. 4
    Avicenna

    Except this is not a movie about ANY of these things. It’s like picking up Harry Potter and condemning it because it’s main characters are white. This isn’t a movie about caste, it’s more about the mindset of the Jihadi and what caused this particular one to be this way. To drag caste into it is frankly silly. It’s manufacturing controversy where there is none. Are you honestly suggesting that no country that has ever killed Muslims can ever make a movie involving them in a less than positive light? Are we to look at movies like Four Lions and go “That’s Racist! You Brits Kill Far More Muslims Than Muslims Kill You, So You Cannot Mock Fundamentalists”?

    I ask again. Have You Seen It?

  5. 5
    sanjay kumar K

    ///This isn’t a movie about caste, it’s more about the mindset of the Jihadi and what caused this particular one to be this way. To drag caste into it is frankly silly. It’s manufacturing controversy where there is none. Are you honestly suggesting that no country that has ever killed Muslims can ever make a movie involving them in a less than positive light? ///

    again missing my point completely…and if harry potter movies are accused for predominantly white characters, i do think that it is a valid criticism, considering how pale skin is associated with goodness and color of the heros…perhaps you can view this link about skin color politics
    http://shadeism.com/

    ///Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see the caste of the actors. Most people do not. Many of the actors portray lower caste individuals and despite what we think, there are a lot of movies about rural life with rural heroes. In fact Vijay’s entire “trope” is “low caste, low income everyman”. It’s why a lot of Tamil cinema still uses artforms such as Kutthu which are considered “low caste” and “dirty”.///

    my intention was to highlight this observation of yours to bring parallels in the portrayal of marginalised in mainstream movies…my larger point has been that mainstream tamil movies in particular do stereotype minorities as the abominable other who need to be vanquished for the heroic good to triumph…there is a validity in the muslims taking offence to the portrayal, perhaps the means and methods adopted was not and i strongly condemn their act…

    ///Are you honestly suggesting that no country that has ever killed Muslims can ever make a movie involving them in a less than positive light? Are we to look at movies like Four Lions and go “That’s Racist! You Brits Kill Far More Muslims Than Muslims Kill You, So You Cannot Mock Fundamentalists”?///

    no instead tell me one movie where muslims in mainstream movies are shown as normal law abiding citizens and the story involving around their lives…if all the movies that comes out of commercial cinema involve certain stereotype about minorities and marginalised, there is something wrong in the sensibilities of the makers and it is high time they took notice…one movie does not change the opinion, but where do you start if this simple fact is not acknowledged

    this is going to be my last comment on this topic…there are lots of documentaries and papers acknowledging the demonisation of muslims depicted in hollywood movies

    http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&Id=135287
    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/reel-bad-arabs/

    ///Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and the effects of specific US domestic and international policies on their lives. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these Hollywood caricatures unexamined, the film challenges viewers to recognize the urgent need for counter-narratives that do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture.///

    http://www.ukm.my/news/index.php/en/component/content/article/1219-hollywood-blamed-for-demonising-arabs-and-muslims-.html

    this is a telling commentary on the stereotypes reinforced by popular media viz., movies
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IC24Ak02.html
    ///In a contrasting vein to my above observation about the film Troy, the notion of casting the Muslim hero Saladin as a noble conqueror in The Kingdom of Heaven failed because mainstream America could not adjust to the idea of a Muslim superhero, much less the morally ambiguous Christians populating the film. ///
    and this
    ///No studio can afford not to show its films in China when the market opens. Thus the idea of placating the powers that be remains firmly entrenched across these companies. Chinese people are now portrayed as hard-working if a little boring in Hollywood movies, a marked contrast to their portrayal during the previous 50 years as poor and desperate immigrants. In much the same way, the portrayal of other ethnic groups has undergone serial upgrades, commensurate with emerging economic realities.
    The bottom line to Muslims upset with their portrayal in Hollywood is thus quite simple – the greater the economic clout they gain, the less likely movie moguls are to airbrush their proud history.///

  6. 6
    Avicenna

    Except the point of Harry Potter was not to be a diatribe about race but to be about wizards and the power of friendship and love. Honestly if you read Harry Potter and all that comes out of it is “Needs More Indians and Black People” then you really are never going to be happy until you tick EVERY box for every demographic. What you will then have is a terrible book as everyone gets an allocated time slot. You will have no heroes and all your problems will be solved through judicial discourse. In short, you will have the world’s most boring story. Harry Potter worked because we did not care about the race of it’s characters. Harry Potter could speak like Bob Marley and we wouldn’t have been the LEAST surprised. In fact there is absolutely no race in the book EXCEPT for two and the only reason we know they are of a different race is because they have different names. Patel and Cho… The book is absolutely colour blind, the bias we have is due to our own visualisations of the characters. Oh and yeah Ron Weasley (Ginger… Incidentally? One of the worst treated demographics in the West)

    The ultimate joke was that muslims who have seen the movie uncensored didn’t seem to have any problems with it.

    Cinema with muslims portrayed in a normal light? East is East. Infidel is a muslim romantic comedy. They do exist. However you cannot make a movie like the Hurt Locker and have the villains be Sudanese Native African Religion Believers.

    And seriously? America isn’t the world mate. I actually like Kingdom of Heaven because it didn’t compromise. A lot of the world is sick and tired of American Movies “changing History”. Oh we laugh at things like Pearl Harbour because America Stole It’s Own History but we do get mad at things like U571 (The Germans weren’t as monsterous, we know because they are still alive and it was a British submarine. They too still have survivors. To make such a movie without them was patently moronic).

    Four Lions was actually shown to a Muslim who was held in Guantanamo bay. The Infidel was not great but was decent. If you wish to show muslims in a positive light then you need to encourage such movies that muslims have made to laugh at their fundies. Because all that Vishwaroopam does is point out that the dialogue of Islam is not from moderates but from the complete idiots who make up the heroes of movies of like Four Lions.

  7. 7
    sheila

    I believe the Taliban feel they’ve had an unfair press about Malala. They want it to be known that they didn’t shoot her in the face for a giggle; they did it because they disagreed with her. They don’t seem to understand that we might have a problem with shooting children for disagreeing with you.

  8. 8
    sanjay kumar K

    i am forced to retort…my issue is not that taliban are not shown as decent guys, but the demonisation of innocent muslims that occurs in the name of stating the facts or as being a work of fiction…what Taliban did to Malala was horrendous, but we support Malala’s cause even if she uses the same pedophilic text aka quran in a press release…i mean as atheists and humanists this should not bother as what she is doing is seriously undermining the faith within and should be supported…

    freedom of expression is fine, but don’t you think in a civilised debate there are certain restrictions and responsibility attached to it? if you think none exist, then are sexism, misogyny, racism, fascism be tolerated as freedom of expression? does it not go against harm principle?….i am not for ban of this movie, but about the legitimate concern expressed by the muslim groups…although i do not in ANY which way condone their acts…

    In India the sad reality is muslims are at the receiving end of communal clashes and are also interrogated whenever a bomb blast occurs under the grounds of suspicion, many tales of secret executions are dime a dozen in Kashmir where all those who are caught for suspicion are executed by the state…if they revolt they are conveniently branded terrorist, because of their faith…and the vicious cycle continues….

    if none of the movies show this issue …none (absolutely zero films till date in Tamil moviedom) then it is serious point to consider atleast to introspect…either it can be dismissed as mere coincidence or something deeper like prejudice or Islamaphobia…it is very disingenuous to think that any support for legitimate concerns of muslims is support of taliban!

    and movies shape opinions whether you like it or not…hard casuality cannot be established since the matter involved is not physics or maths, but this link (not an Indian one, so that you accept it as more authentic! :) ) should demolish whatever strawman you established about harry potter’s skin color ( i can’t help wonder about your statements as the worst apologia that i have read about overlooking hideous racism in popular media)
    ///The film also shows that if media were used in a constructive way, it would help in a tremendous way to solve the many problems of racism and sexism that are discussed in the works studied throughout the course. For example, if there were commercials on how African Americans are treated differently than whites when applying for a job or doing anything for that matter, maybe people would start feeling guilty for being so narrow minded.///
    http://www.free-essays-free-essays.com/dbase/7c/svn145.shtml
    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/killing-us-softly-3/

    i am done on this…bye

  9. 9
    gurpreet

    kali, sikaran, kalisikaran, fma, arnis, escrima, eskrima, video, kali video, kali in movies.
    its my lucky day to find your sites..

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