CE Year in Review: The top 15 Kollywood controversies of 2020
Here, we bring you a list of controversies and issues that plagued the Tamil entertainment industry in 2020:
As Tamil Nadu went into a lockdown in the third week of March to flatten the curve of the COVID pandemic, cinema halls across the state shut down indefinitely. And consequently, the fate of several films that were scheduled for the summer, remained in question. However, the OTT surge came as a timely respite and the audience began drawing its dose of entertainment content from these digital platforms. Despite the closed theatres and the halted production for more than six months, the Tamil film industry continued to be privy to several controversies from plagiarism disputes to movie release norms. The distributors were constantly at loggerheads with the producers for bypassing theatres. Ego tussles turned uglier.
Here, we bring you a list of controversies and issues that plagued the Tamil entertainment industry in 2020:
Production accident claims lives
In a tragic accident, a production mishap on the sets of Kamal Haasan's Indian 2 in February led to the death of three crew members. A crane carrying heavy light equipment gave way and crashed to the ground killing an assistant director, an art assistant, and a production assistant. Kamal Haasan reportedly later approached the Madras High Court a month later, alleging harassment by the police who were to be investigating the accident. He complained that the cops were forcing him to reenact the accident scene, causing him and the director significant mental trauma.
The Arun Vijay-starrer Mafia: Chapter 1, which was released in February, was slammed for using photos of victims murdered by Toronto serial killer, Bruce McArthur. The family members of five of the eight murder victims, whose photos are visible in a scene in the film, expressed shock over the insensitive usage. The people in the photos were depicted as being connected to a drug kingpin in the movie. Following this, the film's production company, Lyca Productions, apologised in a written statement, and promised to blur the photos that were used. The production house claimed that the pictures were 'downloaded randomly from the internet' and used only for 'creative narration'. Nevertheless, Amazon Prime Video had by then taken down the film from its platform in Canada.
Clash of egos
The production of Thupparivaalan 2, the sequel to Mysskin's 2017 hit, Thupparivaalan, hit a roadblock after the filmmaker had a major fall out with the movie's lead, Vishal. The conflict reportedly arose after the budget overshot by a huge margin. Vishal, also the producer of the film, then decided to take up the directorial responsibilities and finish the project. The actor and the director went on to make open allegations against each other. The first look of the film, subsequently, had no mention of Mysskin’s name, despite the director completing over a month of shooting. It was later reported that Vishal was considering bringing Mysskin back as the director, but there have been no official announcements regarding the issue.
Trial by social media
Twitter was rife with outrage in October following the announcement of the Muthiah Muralitharan biopic, 800, starring Vijay Sethupathi as the famous cricketer. With clips from an interview of Muralitharan doing the rounds, detractors, who alleged that the cricketer’s stand isn’t sympathetic to Eelam Tamils, urged Vijay Sethupathi to step away from the project. Film personalities like Bharathiraja, Ameer, Thamarai, and Cheran, too, voiced their disapproval on social media and requested Sethupathi to opt out. Subsequently, Sethupathi took to Twitter to confirm the news that he was stepping away from the biopic. He also shared a statement of Muthiah Muralidaran, in which the Sri Lankan bowling legend sympathised with the actor for being the target of social media criticism.
Actor Jyotika found herself at the centre of a heated social media debate after her statement at an award show went viral for all the wrong reasons. She had said that those who donate to temples should also donate to hospitals and schools. The comments sparked a wave of online hate, as Hindu sections took it as an attack on the religion, asking why she was not making the same comment about mosques and churches. Actor Suriya went on to back his wife’s comments through a written statement, where he strongly iterated that humanity is above all religion, and that her wife's intention had been twisted to give a communal colour.
Producer Ravindran of Trident Arts approached the Madras High court in September stating that actor Vishal owed the production house Rs 8 crore to settle the losses of their latest film, Action, as per their earlier agreements. He also wanted to stay the release of Vishal's next outing, Chakra, which was supposed to premiere on September 30 on a leading OTT platform. The court, while refusing to extend the stay on Chakra's release, ordered Vishal to post a guarantee of Rs 8.29 crore to cover the losses incurred in Action.
Court takes offence
Actor Suriya spoke up on stage against the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), following the student suicides in Tamil Nadu in September. Calling it a 'manuneethi' exam, he said that the NEET, a highly contentious issue in the state, is unjust and deprives underprivileged children of an opportunity to become doctors. Hours after actor Suriya issued the statement, calling out the courts, the media and the government, a Madras High Court judge wrote to the Chief Justice, to initiate contempt proceedings against the actor, contending that Suriya's statement undermined the integrity and devotion of the judges and the country's judicial system. However, several other retired Madras High Court judges came in defence of Suriya with a letter addressed to the Chief Justice, asking him to put the issue to rest by not initiating any contempt proceedings against the actor, who is well-known for his social welfare activities.
Bigg Boss brouhaha
Bigg Boss Tamil 3 fame Tharshan and his then-fiancée, actor Sanam Shetty, who is a contestant in the current season of Bigg Boss, broke up earlier this year. Both of them took to the media to explain their stance. Sanam, in addition, filed a police complaint against Tharshan for cheating, fraud, harassment, threatening, and breach of trust. Tharshan, who is from Sri Lanka, hurriedly convened a press conference and countered Sanam’s claims. The court ordered the Adyar All Women Police Station to intervene and take immediate action.
Rajinikanth, at an event to celebrate Tamil magazine Thuglak’s 50th-anniversary, made a statement about Periyar, which went viral. Rajini told the gathering that EV Ramaswamy had taken out a rally against superstition in Salem in 1971, with “undressed images of Lord Sri Ram and Sita with garlands of sandals, and no news outlet published it”. Effigies of Rajinikanth were burnt and protesters laid siege to his Poes Garden residence. However, the star refused to apologise or express regret for his remarks, saying that the incident involving Periyar was not a “figment of his imagination”, and produced copies of published articles to substantiate his statement.
In November, director SA Chandrasekar turned a lot of heads with his request to the Election Commission to convert the fan club of his son, Vijay, into a political party named All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam. Vijay subsequently issued a statement, categorically denying any link to the party that his father had registered. He also requested his fans not to join that political party or work for it simply because his father had started it. The actor also threatened appropriate legal action if his name, photo, or the name of Vijay Makkal Iyakkam were to be used. Subsequently, SA Chandrasekar withdrew his request from the Election Commission. Later, when asked about Vijay's statement, he said that his move was only for the welfare of his son and his fans.
Actor Karunas, the leader of the political party, Mukkulathor Pulipadai, demanded a ban on Dhanush’s next film Karnan, which is being directed by Pariyerum Perumal fame Mari Selvaraj. According to Karunas, the film, which was rumoured to be based on the 1995 Kodiyankulam caste riots, could trigger violence and unnecessary trouble in the now-peaceful region. The crew was threatened to stop shooting in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi or face the consequences. The director, Mari Selvaraj, subsequently confirmed in an interview that his film was not about the Kodiyankulam riots. In an unrelated controversy, fans of late actor Sivaji Ganesan had earlier requested the film's producer Kalaipuli S. Thanu to change the film's title because Sivaji's 1964 mythological film had the same title.
Row over a reptile
A video of actor Silambarasan handling a cobra during the shoot of his upcoming flick Eeswaran went on to trigger a huge controversy as it was against the law to use wild animals in films without the permission of the forest department. Officials then sent a notice to the crew seeking an explanation. In response, the director of the film, Suseenthiran, met forest officials and reportedly proved that the crew only used a rubber snake and CGI effects, after which the film was given a clean chit.
Lost in translation
Following the digital release of Dulquer Salmaan's latest Malayalam film, Varane Avashyamund, a section of Tamil viewers took offence to a particular scene in the film, where Suresh Gopi calls his dog 'Prabhakara'. The protestors said that they were "gravely offended" by the "deliberate slander" on their Tamil leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and demanded an apology from Dulquer and director Anoop Sathyan. Following this, Dulquer, who was also the producer, apologised and put out a statement to clarify the real intention behind the said scene, which is actually a reference to an iconic dialogue from Pattanapravesham, a popular Malayalam film made by Anoop's father, Sathyan Anthikad.
The OTT backlash
As theatres remain closed because of the lockdown, Ponmagal Vandhal, starring Jyotika, and produced by Suriya's 2D Entertainment, got a direct OTT release on Amazon Prime Video in the first week of May. Theatre owners, already sore from the losses inflicted by the lockdown, didn't take kindly to this decision. They condemned the production house's "hasty" decision and stressed that films made for theatrical release, as a policy, must never opt for digital releases. They also threatened to never allow a theatre release of any film involving Suriya, and his production house.
Producers vs digital service providers
Ever since the TN government announced that theatres could be reopened after the lockdown and function with 50 percent occupancy, the producers and the digital service providers (Qube and UFO) went at loggerheads with each other over release terms. Earlier, the Tamil Film Active Producers Association (TFAPA), headed by Bharathiraja, had announced that producers would not be releasing new films unless the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) collected by Qube and UFO was reduced. Qube Cinema, in turn, condemned TFAPA’s decision and accused it of exploiting this unprecedented period of struggle to gain concessions. However, in an unexpected turn of events, Qube and UFO went on to announce 100 percent waiver of VPF for November to "help kickstart cinema operations." The producers, however, felt that the waiver for a single month was just a temporary gimmick and not a permanent solution. With producers and DSPs still divided over this issue, it is to be seen whether the new year changes the scene decisively.
In the first week of December, Rajinikanth announced that he was taking concrete steps for his political entry. He was supposed to announce the date of his political party's launch on December 31. Three days before the New Year, Rajinikanth did make an announcement, but it was not what his fans expected. In a three-page statement shared on his social media accounts, Rajinikanth said that he was not joining active politics, and cited his ill-health and post-transplant status as the reason. Rajini's decision came in the aftermath of the actor being admitted to a Hyderabad hospital, while shooting for his next film, Annaatthe. Although he tested COVID negative, Rajinikanth was diagnosed with severe blood pressure fluctuations and exhaustion.