TAMIL NADU

Khushboo, Suhasini left to fend for themselves

V. Jayanth

CHENNAI: The unfortunate denouement on the film front, the courts and on the streets of Tamil Nadu over the past few weeks have raised several uncomfortable questions. What has happened to Khushboo and Suhasini has hit at the heart of the freedom of expression. As a concerted effort appears to be on to drag them from one court to another, many people are surprised as to why the film fraternity has washed its hands off these two stars.

It is not new and this may not be the last time that politically inspired protests and legal complaints are launched in the State. Kollywood's `Superstar' Rajnikant faced the wrath of a section of the political spectrum, which charged him with inspiring present day youth to drink and smoke; South Indian Film Artistes' Association (Nadigar Sangam) president Vijaykant was also at the receiving end for his political speech against a Union Minister. And now, these two actors have come under fire.

Over 20 cases filed

According to information available as on Friday, well over 20 cases have been filed against Ms. Khushboo and Ms. Suhasini in different parts of the State — from Sankarankoil in Tiruneveli district, to Mettur in Salem district, and of course in Chennai. The criminal complaints filed before different Magistrates run more or less on similar grounds. In addition to defamation, the petitioners have strung together several other sections of the Indian Penal Code — for instance Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), Section 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), and 504 (intent to provoke breach of peace).

Ms. Khushboo has argued that she has only spoken in favour of "safe sex," and in support of creating awareness about AIDS. Ms. Suhasini, for her part, extended full support to her colleague in this battle. The rest of it is before the courts of law.

The antagonists, who claim to be standing up in defence of Tamil culture and values, have taken serious exception to the talk about women having sex before marriage and to Ms. Suhasini apologising "on behalf of all Tamils."

When so much drama has unfolded on the streets and more recently before the Mettur court, what did the film industry and Nadigar Sangam do? They made it clear to the two actors that the association cannot come to their defence when they air such controversial, personal views in public.

The Sangam sought and obtained an apology from Ms. Suhasini.

Industry sources, when contacted, insisted on "anonymity" while discussing these developments. A leading distributor made one thing clear — "The industry is just turning the corner. The theatres have just started making money with films running for a few weeks to packed houses. More movies are celebrating 100-day and silver jubilee runs. Why will the industry want any problems or confrontations now? At the drop of a hat, mobs are waiting to ransack theatres, damage the infrastructure and stop the screening of films of actors under attack. The producers, financiers and distributors do not want any trouble. So much of money has been invested and at usurious rates of interest. Any delay in the release or disruption in screening will cost us dear."

So, the segments of the industry behind the scenes, which put in the money, want to recover it in good time and when the sun shines. They do not want actors or directors to get involved in "unnecessary controversies." They point out that two of Ms. Khushboo's films are waiting for release now, but it may be "dangerous" to screen them in the present scenario.

But a delay in release means piling up of interest and cost over-run. So the two actors have to fend for themselves and look for "moral support" from outside the State.