Kannur: On January 11, the passengers of a local bus at a bus stand in Kerala’s Kasargod were shocked as someone they used to see on screen came to them and asked a strange question: “Will you please help me go to America?”
Alancier, a supporting actor in the Malayalam film industry, well-known for his role ‘Baby’ in the popular 2016 movie Maheshinte Prathikaram, was doing a one-man street performance, registering his protest against the hate campaign by the BJP and other Sangh organisations against Kamal, a noted Malayalam film director.
The political performance came against the backdrop of protests by the BJP and a recent statement by a top BJP leader in Kerala who said that Kamal had no respect for the national anthem and should leave India.
The personal attacks on Kamal by Hindutva forces began during the annual International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), held last month in Thiruvanant
The latest edition of IFFK, a prestigious event conducted annually by the autonomous Kerala Chalachithra Academy of which Kamal is chairperson, was held at a time when participants appeared deeply divided over a new subject – the playing of the national anthem before movie screenings.
Negative sentiments against the Supreme Court’s ruling on the national anthem among IFFK delegates was tangible, even though many prefer to keep their disagreement private. But open discussion about the rationale and perceived political impacts of the verdict was not entirely missing at the event. Many participants registered their protest by refusing to stand up for the national anthem at different screenings. Some alleged Hindutva group members made a formal complaint against this. The police then arrested some delegates, but the festival organisers, while reiterating their commitment to the Supreme Court’s verdict, differed with the way the police acted.
Kamal was one of them. He said that the festival organisers respected the court ruling and took all measures to ensure that the order was implemented, including making announcements before each screening, but also made it clear that he couldn’t accept the manner in which the police arrested the delegates. He said the organisers were not informed of the police action in advance in order to avoid any chaos at the festival.
Terming his statements as ‘anti-national’, Hindutva members marched to Kamal’s residence where they played the national anthem before burning his effigy. The protesters accused Kamal of siding with those who refuse to obey the apex court’s ruling. In response, Kamal said it was those who sang the national anthem in front of his house who were disrespecting the anthem.
“Kamal does not need a certificate of patriotism from the Sangh Parivar. Such tactics will not work in Kerala. The government will take action against such propaganda,” the state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said in defence of the director. He also said Sangh parivar forces were trying to foment communal tensions in the state. He also questioned the motive behind Sangh parivar using the director’s full name, Kamaludeen, instead of Kamal, as he is commonly known.
Kamal remained combative at the BJP’s attack on him. Responding to the media over the attack, Kamal had said at that time: “They have already “sent” many to Pakistan. If they want to “send” me too there, let it be. But the funny part here is, as I would like to ask them back, what do they plan to do here after having sent all of us to Pakistan!”
Several days after the IFFK controversy, however, it seems that Sangh parivar is in no mood to end its attack on the director.
A.N. Radhakrishnan, the BJP’s state general secretary, unleashed a fresh attack on Kamal on January 9. During a press conference in Kozhikode, Radhakrishnan said, “Kamal is a person who have doubts whether one should stand up when the national anthem is being sung. People like Kamal should leave the country if they are not interested in living here.” He also claimed that Kamal had been selected by the state government as the chairman of the Kerala Chalachithra Academy because “he called Modi as cannibal”.
Not isolated incidents
Targeting high-profile artists and writers for expressing an opinion that differs from theirs has recently become the norm among Sangh organisations, including BJP, in Kerala.
M.T. Vasudevan Nair, one of the most celebrated writers from Kerala, received his share of criticism and attack from Hindutva forces before the focus moved back to Kamal.
While speaking at an event in the last week December, Nair had compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to medieval ruler Muhammad bin Tughluq. Nair was releasing a Malayalam book, Tackling Black Money: Myth and Reality, written by the state finance minister and economist T.M. Thomas Isaac. At the event, Nair said Modi has hidden objectives behind demonetisation.
The veteran writer’s critical comment about Modi and demonetisation invited criticism from the BJP. Questioning the writer’s ‘qualification’ to criticise demonetisation, Radhakrishnan said, “M.T. Vasudevan Nair is not an economist to criticise the demonetisation drive. We can understand if writers like A. Sethumadhavan or K.L. Mohana Varma, who have a background in economics make such comments”. He also accused the writer for being “selective” in responding to issues. BJP state president Kummanam Rajashekharan later justified the general secretary’s remarks against Nair.
“Patriotism is not love for underwear”
During his dramatic protest-performance, Alancier, who was only wearing a lungi, entered a public bus and asked the driver and passengers if they can help him “go to America”, in a clear reference to the “go to Pakistan” rhetoric. He then met members of the public on the street and had dramatic interaction with them.
According to the actor, what he was doing was not a protest, but a “resistance”. He said his is a genuine resistance, as if he would “cover my body when it gets cold” or “switch on fan, or move to any place for coolness, when it gets hot”. “Patriotism is not love for underwear,” Alancier also said during his performance.
“I am proud of my country. I am proud of my neighbouring country too. Still they ask me: who are you?,” the actor said.
Alancier later told the media that he does not personally know Kamal and that his performance was against the growing trend of intolerance. “To think that you can kick someone out of the country based on his faith, just because he expressed his opinion, is fascism.”
A rare show of solidarity
On the same day as Alancier’s ‘resistance’, thousands gathered at Kodungallur in Thrissur, from where Kamal hails. There, in a rare show of solidarity, popular leaders of major political parties, like M.A. Baby of the CPI(M), V.T. Balram of the Congress and Binoy Viswam of the CPI, film directors Lal Jose and Aashiq Abu, writers Sarah Joseph, N.S. Madhavan and Unni R, and several other joined the people of Kodungallur. Participants of the programme, symbolically titled ‘Before it gets dark’, were reported to have expressed their solidarity with Kamal and unanimously condemned and exposed the Sangh parivar’s ideology and actions of trying to spread hate and division.
The message at the gathering was clear, as Kerala assembly opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said in a Facebook post on January 9: “Kerala will unanimously resist the communal agenda to single out and attack the talented Kamal”.