Freedom of film in Tamil Nadu is getting dimmer by the day. The audio launch of Pravingandhi’s Puli Paarvai in Chennai on Saturday was disrupted by four student groups, which felt that the work should not be released.
On Saturday, the students’ protest in the audio launch led to a scuffle between them and the audience. The police had to intervene.
The movie traces the story of Balachandran, who was the son of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Balachandran, a mere 12-year-old boy, was reportedly shot dead in cold blood by Sri Lankan forces minutes after he had eaten a snack. The visual, captured on BBC’s Channel 4, inspired Pravingandhi to make Puli Paarvai or Tiger Look.
Prabhakaran and his guerrilla forces fought a 30-year-old civil war in Sri Lanka demanding a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils. These Tamils share a close affinity with the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. And, any film with even the slightest of anti-Lanka-Tamil sentiment has run into rough weather in Tamil Nadu. Movies like Inam, Madras Café and With You Without You were not allowed to screen in the State. Inam and With You Without You were not even remotely critical of Lankan Tamils.
Now Puli Paarvai appears to be getting into trouble. Earlier this month, four different student groups – Maatram Maanavar Ilaiyor Iyakkam, Free Tamil Eelam Students Organisation, Tamil Youth and Students Association and Progressive Students Front -- had called for a ban on the film, alleging that it promoted Sri Lankan interests and celebrated child soldiers. Balachandran is seen in one of the promos holding a gun, and Prabhakaran was often lambasted for using children in his war.
Pravingandhi told me this morning that he had projected Balachandran as a brave boy, an image which conformed to the popular perception of Tamils both on the island and in Tamil Nadu. Yet, the students seemed to be unhappy. He felt that this was a mere publicity gimmick; the students were trying to draw attention to themselves rather than projecting any cause.