CE Year In Review: The biggest Kollywood controversies of 2019
A list of issues that plagued the Tamil film industry in 2019
Over the past year, the Tamil film industry has been privy to several controversies from post-release censoring to unending plagiarism disputes. The never-ending insensitive remarks on women harassment and the MeToo moment have sparked spirited discourse and often, evoked deafening silence. Fan wars turned uglier. Politicians became more intolerant. Here, we bring you a list of controversies and issues that plagued the Tamil film industry in 2019.
Red card and reversal
Earlier this year, Simbu was dropped from Venkat Prabhu's Maanaadu after he had allegedly been the cause for numerous delays in the film's shoot. Almost a year after the announcement of the film, which was supposed to star Kalyani Priyadarshan as the female lead, producer Suresh Kamachi announced in August that he would resume the film with Venkat Prabhu and another leading star.
Simbu, meanwhile, flew to Thailand, but not before announcing a new film titled Maghaa Maanaadu, to be produced under his own production banner. However, the intervention of the producers' council, in October, seems to have resulted in a truce of sorts. Reports now suggest that Simbu, who has been hitting the gym to prepare for the role, will begin shooting for the project in January.
Director Bala's completed version of the Tamil remake of the Telugu blockbuster Arjun Reddy, titled Varmaa, which was scheduled for release in March, was scrapped at the last moment by the film's production house, E4 Entertainment, which cited dissatisfaction with the film's final cut. They went on to shoot a completely new version from scratch with a new crew, retaining only the lead, Dhruv, and Arjun Reddy-music director, Radhan.
The new version, titled Adithya Varma, which featured October-fame Banita Sandhu as the female lead, was then released to watered down response from the audience. There are now unconfirmed reports that Bala's version might soon get a Netflix release.
While Vetrimaaran’s big-screen adaptation of Poomani’s Vekkai novel, Asuran, received widespread acclaim for the portrayal of its Dalit protagonist (Dhanush playing a middle-aged father who faces caste oppression), actor-politician Karunas expressed his disappointment over the line ‘Aanda Parambarai’ in the film, which he said denoted his ‘Mukkulathor’ community.
Vetrimaaran, however, acknowledged the request of Karunas and muted the line from the film. Karunas had previously been a part of Vetrimaaran’s Polladhavan, which also starred Dhanush. Interestingly, Karunas’ son, Ken, plays a pivotal role (the younger son of Dhanush's character) in Asuran.
Director Gautham Menon had been missing in action after his 2016 film with Simbu. Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada. His films got postponed multiple times, and more importantly, he was said to be caught in a web of financial issues, with the South Indian Film Financiers’ Association (SIFFA) supposedly taking a call to stop financing his films till he released pending projects. However, things took a turn for the better, after producer Ishari Ganesh of Vels Film International came on board to release the filmmaker's long-delayed project, Enai Nokki Paayum Thotta (ENPT), starring Dhanush and Megha Akash. The film finally saw the light of the day in November 2019. In return, it is said that Gautham Menon has reportedly given the nod to direct four films under Ishari Ganesh's banner, the first of which, titled Joshua: Imai Pol Kaakha, is set to star the producer's nephew, Varun, as the male lead. The other three projects are said to star Suriya, Anushka Shetty, and Rajinikanth, respectively.
With a few months of post-production pending for Gautham's long-delayed film with Vikram, Dhruva Natchathiram, the fate of his other films he is associated with, Selvaraghavan's Nenjam Marappathillai, and Karthick Naren's Naragasooran, still remain unknown. Director Karthick Naren's query about the release of his second directorial venture, Naragasooran, as a reply to Gautham's tweet about ENPT's release, incidentally, didn't get a response from Gautham.
The audio launch of Vijay's tentpole movie, Bigil, was eagerly anticipated by his fans, given that the actor rarely makes public appearances otherwise. The audio was released amidst much celebration on September 19 at an engineering college in Chennai. However, all did not go well during the audio launch, and many fans took to social media to share their dreadful ordeal during the event. Many were allegedly beaten up by security personnel and forced to return for lack of space. The event’s organisers were criticised for poor planning, lack of drinking water or food, unlit roads leading to the programme area, and overcrowding.
Several reports subsequently surfaced regarding the alleged mistreatment thousands of fans went through, even while Vijay was on the dais, ironically speaking about treating his fans with respect. 20,000 tickets were allegedly sold for a venue with a seating capacity of 10,000. While the organisers didn't comment on the issue, a source close to the team claimed that the sale of fake tickets resulted in the unmanageable crowd.
Nude is rude?
Amala Paul, who made headlines with her nude act in her 2019 film, Aadai, was ousted from Vijay Sethupathi's upcoming romantic drama, VSP 33, after the official announcement, and was replaced by Megha Akash. Amala then released an official statement alleging that she got thrown out of the film unceremoniously. She lashed out at Chandaraa Arts, the producers of VSP 33, for removing her from the film after citing she's not “production-friendly"
Amala further went on to add that the ousting happening right after the release of Aadai teaser only reflected the patriarchal and egoistic mindset of Chandaraa Arts. Amala also said that Tamil Nadu deserves good cinema, and that will only happen only when this large set of traditional, patriarchal production houses change their mindset.
While maestro Ilayaraja was being felicitated at the International Film Festival of India in November in Goa, his close aides Bharathiraja, Bhagyaraj, Seeman, among other film personalities, were trying to sort out the row between the composer and Prasad Studios. For four decades, Raja had been working out of his ‘comfort zone’ in his office located inside the sprawling Prasad Studios. A plan by the current management of the Prasad Studios, headed by Sai Prasad, grandson of late L V Prasad, to renovate the campus, had drawn ire from Ilayaraja, as he was asked to vacate and hand over the studio.
Raja had filed a case against the studio owners demanding to be allowed to continue at the same premises. However, the studio management had sought to vacate him with immediate effect from its Saligramam premises. Under these circumstances, various film personalities unsuccessfully tried to mediate with the management of Prasad Studios, who rejected the music composer’s offer to pay rent for the premises or take it on lease. The Madras High Court, taking up the case in December, recommended another mediation in the court premises, between the two parties to attempt an amicable solution to the dispute. The result is still unknown.
Get your act together
The Tamil Nadu government has been waging a fierce legal battle against the South Indian Artistes' Association, popularly known as the Nadigar Sangam. At the centre of the dispute is the election held by the body in June this year, to pick new office-bearers. The elections were contested between the teams led by Nasser and Bhagyaraj, dubbed as Pandavar Ani and Swami Sankaradas Ani respectively.
The government argued in court that the Nadigar Sangam elections should be declared invalid, as they were not in accordance with the by-laws of the association. The government had also alleged irregularities in the postal ballots, and removal of names from the rolls just before the elections, while also pointing out that the erstwhile office bearers extended their stay at the helm of affairs even after the tenure ended. Because of this intervention by the government, the vote-counting still remains incomplete. For now, the ballots have been placed securely in a private bank in Chennai. Meanwhile, a special officer has been appointed by the TN government to oversee the proceedings of the association, until disputes pertaining to the elections pending with the Madras High Court are resolved, much to the disappointment of Nasser-led faction, who have called it as ‘murder of democracy’.
Actor Radha Ravi, who had developed notoriety for being a rabble-rouser at film-related events, found himself in the eye of the storm, yet again, for his sexually-charged, slut-shaming remarks on Nayanthara during the trailer launch of the Airaa actor's Kolaiyuthir Kaalam. Several members of the film fraternity including Vignesh Shivan, Chinmayi, Milind Rau, Radikaa Sarathkumar, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Khusbu Sundar and Taapsee Pannu expressed their outrage over Radha Ravi's statements. Most of them called out the Nadigar Sangam, Producers Union, and the Dubbing Union, for letting a repeat offender go scot-free.
In response to such calls, Nadigar Sangam came out with a strongly-worded warning to Radha Ravi. DMK leader MK Stalin suspended Radha Ravi from the party for his derogatory statements. Nayanthara, for her part, issued a statement condemning the veteran actor's behaviour. Calling him out for his remarks against women, Nayanthara said that misogynists like him get a feeling of machismo when demeaning women. She also scathingly remarked that actors like Radha Ravi resort to such tactics to remain relevant in the industry, and added that the applause from the audience in his speeches is "ghastly shocking". Nayanthara also urged the Nadigar Sangam to set up an Internal Complaints Committee as per the Supreme Court's dictum and initiate an internal inquiry as per the Vishakha guidelines.
Drumming up a controversy
Veteran actor-director K Bhagyraj faced a backlash for his statements about women at the audio launch of the upcoming Tamil film, Karuthkalai Pathivu Sei. The filmmaker presided over the function as the chief guest, and shared his opinion that men are not the only reason behind the sexual harassment of women. He did this by recalling an age-old Tamil adage, ‘Oosi edam kudukkaama nool nuzhaiyaathu’
Bhagyaraj even went on to comment on the Pollachi rape incidents. “Those boys are not the only people responsible for the crimes. You have a weakness and he has exploited it. If he has done a big mistake, you are also guilty of creating an opportunity for that to happen,” he said. Despite the backlash, the veteran actor-director continued to echo his earlier statements in subsequent interviews.
A political party called Anaithu Makkal Katchi filed a complaint with the commissioner's office against the makers of Aadai for "promoting nudity" and "spoiling Tamil culture". The party also complained about "the usage of the nude posters for the promotion of the film", saying it “will send out a wrong message to the country's youth and encourage rape culture”.
The founder of Anaithu Makkal Katchi, Rajeshwari, also put forward some serious allegations against the film's lead, Amala Paul, claiming that the latter did not care about our culture since she is not from this State.
The plagiarism wars
The long-drawn plagiarism issue surrounding Vijay's Bigil came to a close after the Madras High Court refused to stay the film's release. The makers were fighting a legal case, which was filed by a director named KP Selva, who had accused Atlee of plagiarising his story. Selva, who had claimed that he had registered the story with the South Indian Film Writers Association a few years back, had sought a ban on Bigil's release. After the court's refusal to stay the release, the matter is said to have been settled out of court. Incidentally, this was not the only plagiarism charge levied against Bigil. Two other filmmakers - Meeraan and Nandi Chinni Kumar (from Andhra Pradesh) - had claimed that Bigil is based on their scripts, which they had registered back in 2015. Nandi Chinni Kumar, in particular, claimed that his film, based on the life of real-life football player Akhilesh Paul, and tentatively called Slum Soccer, bears major resemblances to Bigil. Both these filmmakers, however, did not approach the court,
In yet another case, Pa Krishnamoorthy, an associate of actor-director Parthiban, who had claimed rights to the story of the Jayam Ravi-starrer Comali, was left unhappy with the way he was credited in the film. Ahead of the film’s release, Krishnamoorthy had approached the Writers’ Union accusing Comali director Pradeep Ranganathan of plagiarising his story. The union, headed by K Bhagyaraj, compared his script with that of Ranganathan’s and concluded that the two films, in fact, had the same story. The producer Ishari Ganesh had accepted the Sangam’s decision on the matter and had agreed to credit Krishnamoorthy. But in the credits, Krishnamoorthy's name appeared in a very small font and only for a few seconds. Director Pradeep’s ‘card’, which appeared next on screen, seemed to suggest that the premise of the film is common and does not belong to anyone.
Director Mithran's second film, Hero, starring Sivakarthikeyan, also got embroiled in plagiarism controversies. Director K Bhagyaraj of the Writers’ Union sent out a press note saying that the core plot of Hero and the story of assistant director, Bosco Prabhu, are the same. Reacting to this, Mithran pointed out that the members of the union should have compared the screenplay and not the core plot alone. He also added that the story of Hero was inspired by many newspaper articles and declaring plagiarism charges just by comparing the synopses was unfair.
Fans of Vijay and Ajith fighting it out on Twitter is not something new to Kollywood's ecosystem. However, producer Dhananjayan and Kotapadi J Rajesh of KJR Studios also got pulled into one ugly battle in the third week of November. While answering a question on Twitter about whether or not Ajith's Viswasam collected Rs 125 crore in eight days, Dhananjayan said that the figure is 'absolutely exaggerated'. This didn't go down well with Ajith fans and Viswasam-makers KJR Studios, who started taking digs at Dhananjayan. KJR Studios shared an old video of Dhananjayan in which he says, "One cannot comment on whether or not Viswasam earned Rs 128 crores, but we have to go by the words of the distributor."
Dhananjayan, in response, asked Rajesh to post the exact share they had shown for TN to the producer. "I said Bigil crossed 80 crore share with details. If KJR can confirm that his film, Viswasam, earned more than that, I will celebrate it," Dhanjayan said, to which KJR gave a scathing reply about watching one's own back first. The warring tweets, in turn, resulted in a deluge of hate memes and trolls.
Raghava Lawrence, a self-proclaimed fan of Rajinikanth, found himself in the midst of a controversy when he spoke about vandalising Kamal Haasan's posters when he was a teenager at the Darbar audio launch. The actor-director was at the receiving end of a lot of hate messages from Kamal Haasan's fans after his speech.
To put an end to this outrage, Lawrence issued a statement explaining that he was a kid when he tore Kamal Sir's posters, and now, he had matured into "someone who has a lot of respect for the legendary actor". When the backlash continued unabated, Lawrence even went to the extent of meeting Kamal Haasan, and explaining his stance to him.
No quarter given
A formal complaint against actor Oviya, director Anita Udeep, and the cast members of the film, 90 ML, was submitted by the Indian National League Party (INLP)’s Women’s Wing chief, Aarifa Razak, to the police commissioner in March. In addition to asking for the arrest of the actor and its director, Aarifa had also called for a blanket ban on the film. Calling the film a disgrace to “Tamil culture”, she alleged that films like 90 ML "instigate rape, and tend to create rapists." She also added that the film encourages young women, school and college girls to defy their “cultural values” particularly by consuming alcohol, smoking, swearing, and discussing sex.
Taking a cue from INLP, Tamil Nadu Kalachara Paathukapu Peravai also lodged a complaint at the Commissioner’s Office against Oviya and Anita, alleging that 90 ML was "vulgar" and supported the use of substance abuse among women. Oviya responded by saying that chauvinists and narrow-minded people should stay away from the film.
Director Mysskin's next, Psycho, starring Udhayanidhi Stalin and Aditi Rao Hydari, was initially slated for release on December 27, but censor issues meant that the release had to be postponed. The censor board had reportedly objected to the film's title alleging that it failed to satisfy the guidelines pertaining to mental health-related titles in cinema.
Mysskin then reached out to the revising committee of CBFC, which reportedly cleared the use of the title, but not before several rounds of discussion with psychologists and the filmmaker.
Classy or classist?
Santhanam's A1 (Accused No. 1), which was released in June, got into trouble when the Hindu Thamizhar Katchi (HTK) filed a complaint with the police commissioner that the film hurt the sentiments of the Brahmin community. A scene, which involved a Brahmin woman eating an omelet to prove her love for the hero, had apparently not gone well with the HTK members.
Many took to the social media to voice their disapproval over the scene, and videos condemning Santhanam's dialogues started doing the rounds. Political activist Uma Anandan also released a video bashing Santhanam for his 'bad taste' in comedy.
A sneak peek of the Vaibhav-starrer, Sixer, landed the makers in legal trouble, as veteran comedian Goundamani sent a notice condemning the unauthorized use of his photo and dialogues from his iconic ‘Cook Kandasamy’ role in his 1991 film, Chinna Thambi. Goundamani’s character in Chinna Thambi has night blindness, which gave the scope for the comedian to come up with a riotous track.
In the notice, the comedian had asked the makers of Sixer to delete the scene in which Vaibhav’s character speaks to Goundamani’s portrait on the wall, wondering what the latter did at night for him to acquire the condition. In the movie, the makers had referred to Goundamani's character as Vaibhav's grandfather. The scene was ultimately retained, and sources hint at an out-of-court settlement between the makers and the comedian.
Who's the hero
A title clash ensued between KJR Studios, the makers of Sivakarthikeyan's Hero, and Mythri Movie Makers, the production house behind Vijay Deverakonda‘s next multilingual, directed by Anand Annamalai.
While PS Mithran, the director of the Sivakarthikeyan film, furnished a letter provided by the TFPC (Tamil Nadu Film Producer's council) stating that KJR Studios had registered the title (Hero) for a Tamil film, Anand, the director of the Vijay Deverakonda film, alleged that he had held the rights to the title for the past two years. While KJR Studios managed to hold on to the 'Hero' title and release the film, it's being said that the makers of the Vijay Deverakonda film have agreed to use a variation of 'Hero', just for the Tamil version.
Early shows of several films like Vijay Sethupathi's Sanga Thamizhan, Vishal's Ayogya, and Amala Paul's Aadai were canceled across Tamil Nadu on their respective opening days because of 'unresolved financial issues between the producer and the stake-holders'. The release of Vijay Sethupathi's yet another film, Sindhubaadh was delayed for more than a week for the same reason. The KDM (Key Delivery Message) to start digital screening in theatres was not issued, stating non-settlement of financial dues.
In the case of Sindhubaadh, the issues were resolved only after Vijay Sethupathi intervened, while for Aadai, Amala Paul had to waive off part of her salary to ensure a smooth release. While the core problem was always between the producers, the financiers and the distributors, those at stake were the theatres and most importantly, scores of fans, awaiting the release of their favourite star's film.
Actor-director Raghava Lawrence, who was signed to direct Akshay Kumar in the Hindi remake of his 2011 horror-comedy Muni 2: Kanchana, decided to opt out of the project (titled Laxmmi Bomb), after the makers apparently unveiled the film's first look without his knowledge. Lawrence went on to write an emotional note on Twitter, saying he felt "insulted" and "disappointed."
However, a few days later, he did a U-turn of sorts, and came up with a statement saying that he's ready to direct the Hindi version if he is promised the respect he deserves. Shortly thereafter, the Kanchana actor announced that he will be returning to helm Laxmmi Bomb. He also thanked Akshay Kumar for understanding his "feelings" and "sorting out all issues once for all.".
Let's not take it easy policy
Iconic comedian Vadivelu, yet again, irked many members of the Tamil film fraternity with his acerbic comments on directors Shankar and Chimbu Deven. In an interview with a popular channel, the comedian called Shankar a "graphics director" and stated that Chimbu Deven was largely incompetent during the filming of Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi.
Directors Venkat Prabhu, Samuthirakani, Naveen, and Vijay Milton, among many others, condemned Vadivelu's speech and asked him to respect the filmmakers who gave him the biggest hit in his career. Now, reports are rife that Shankar and Chimbu Deven are planning to revive the stalled Pulikesi sequel with Yogi Babu.
Sorry not sorry
Saravanan, one of the contestants of the third season of Bigg Boss Tamil, was evicted from the reality show without any warning, for his insensitive comments on sexual harassment. In a weekend episode, while the host Kamal Haasan was trying to sort an altercation between two contestants, Saravanan confessed on camera that he used to grope women in buses when he was in college, to cheering from the audience.
The channel came up with an explanation saying that despite Saravanan's apology, the management has decided not to let go off such crass comments easily. Even though the actions were in the past, the eviction, they said, is the channel's way of documenting dissent for such behaviour against women.
In a press meet organised by his very own Agaram Foundation, Suriya highlighted a number of issues that he claimed the draft National Education Policy 2019 had brought into focus. He broadly alleged policy errors in three aspects including the quality of education with regard to entrance exams, the closing down of Anganwadi schools with less than 10 students, and the three-language policy.
Suriya also urged teachers, students and parents alike to contemplate, debate and weigh in on the latest policy draft published by the Government. His speech received both support and criticism from several politicians and artistes.
Bigg Boss brawl
Meera Mithun, who was in the news because of cases of fraud being piled up against her, cooked up a storm by alleging that director Cheran touched her inappropriately in the garb of a task, during her brief stint in the Bigg Boss Tamil 3 house.
Meera went on to target even the show's host, Kamal Haasan, alleging the veteran actor of unduly influencing the team of her upcoming film, Agni Siragugal, into removing her and replacing her with his daughter Akshara Haasan.