Exhibitors opted not to open John Abraham starrer “Madras Cafe” in several cities in India and the U.K. on Friday, fearing violence from activists protesting the film. Tamils who feel an affinity with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam protested what they said was the pic’s biased view of the conflict and the portrayal of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers’ leader.
In Chennai, Tamilnadu, the Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors Assn. said the film will not play in the state. Facing threats of violence, individual theater and multiplex owners were advised to use their own discretion when booking advance ticket sales. Directed by Shoojit Sircar, the film opened to mixed reviews and middling box office in the rest of India.
U.K. exhib Cineworld said: “Our policy is to show a wide range of films for different audiences. However, following customer feedback and working with the film distributors, we have decided to not show ‘Madras Café.’ ” The exhib offered refunds to those who had already booked the film.
Distrib Viacom18 and production company J.A. Entertainment said in a statement: “We have made a realistic film without being frivolous and over-sensationalizing anything as we believe that the Indian audiences are now looking for credible and realistic cinema. We have told a story, it’s our right of creative expression, we have worked hard to make this film. We only urge people to see the film without being biased and judge it on its merit and not politicize a creative product.”
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However following a special screening in Chennai, activists were angered even further. Seeman, head of the We Tamils, called the film “nauseatingly anti-Tamil.”
Student orgs and political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and We Tamil had been protesting the film. “Madras Cafe,” set during Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war in the 1980s, includes a depiction of the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, for which the Tamil Tigers have been blamed. Abraham portrays an Indian intelligence agent.
And while the BJP naturally opposed a film that showed the assassination of Gandhi, who belonged to a rival party, Shashi Tharoor, minister of State for Human Resource Development, said: ‘Moving to see ‘Madras Cafe’ on Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday. Strong second half, fast-paced film. Outstanding direction and acting, especially by John Abraham.”
In recent months activists have held up the release of other films such as “Thalaiva” and “Viswaroopam” with threats of violence to theaters.