Why is Karnataka Upset Over the Release of Rajinikanth’s Kaala?

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Why is Karnataka Upset Over the Release of Rajinikanth’s Kaala?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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t’s been a busy couple of months for Karnataka, one of our top five favourite southern states. First, the mid-May legislative assembly election drama shook the nation, and even took its toll on the unflappable Amit Shah. HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal went from kingmaker to king, as he became the chief minister of the state after forging a post-poll alliance with the Congress.

But now, barely two weeks into his tenure and less than two days after he formed his cabinet, CM Kumaraswamy faced his first test. Upset over Rajinikanth’s comment over the Cauvery dispute, pro-Kannada groups along with the good people of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce objected to the release of superstar Rajinikanth’s latest film, Kaala. Kumaraswamy, himself a former film producer, joined the anti-Kaala brigade and said the film should not be released in the state “in the present situation”.

Doesn’t all of south India love the Tollywood action hero, who was born in Karnataka? Well, not quite.

Rajinikanth drew Kumaraswamy’s ire when he backed fellow Tamil film star and Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan’s statements about the Cauvery dispute. The Cauvery river runs between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and has been a sore spot between the two states for over a century, with Kannadigas claiming that they don’t get their fair share of water because of the colonial-era agreements that favoured the Madras Presidency. In May, the Supreme Court asked Karnataka to release at least 2 tmc of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu and warned it of “serious consequences” if it failed to oblige.

Haasan, whose foray into politics came just months ago, suggested that a meeting with Kumaraswamy to discuss the Cauvery dispute might bring about a solution, and on June 5, just two days before the Kaala release, Rajinikanth voiced his support for Haasan. However, the backlash was swift, with some, including the Tamil Nadu Cauvery Delta Farmers Association, pointing out that the Cauvery Management Authority has already been set up in response to a Supreme Court ruling on the dispute.

This isn’t the first time Rajinikanth has weighed in on the Cauvery issue. He had previously advised PM Modi to abide by the SC ruling, after Karnataka protested that they still did not have enough water. He also called for the IPL not to hold any matches in Chennai, saying that playing cricket for entertainment purposes when farmers were deprived of water was “an embarrassment”, and encouraging IPL fans to wear black armbands in protest.

Maybe Rajini should have been prepared for a backlash of his own. His politicisation of the IPL led to a severe takedown of his extravagant music launch party for Kaala – in the thick of the Thoothukudi protests – with many taking to Twitter to highlight the actor’s hypocrisy.

As if the Cauvery controversy weren’t enough, Kaala has also been faced with usual showbiz squabbles, including accusations of political incitement and plagiarism. The story revolves around a Tamil slumlord in Dharavi who fights for the rights of his tenants against corrupt netas, and the soundtrack has also drawn criticism for promotion of violence.

Upset over Rajinikanth’s comment over the Cauvery dispute, pro-Kannada groups along with the good people of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce objected to the release of superstar Rajinikanth’s latest film, Kaala.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court refused to stay the release of Kaala, saying that everyone was “anxiously waiting” for it. Despite the court order, distributors in Karnataka decided not to screen the film, fearing violence. But fans gathered outside theatres demanding the release will have to wait yet another day. Kaala will release in 250 theatres across Karnataka on Friday, reports the New Indian Express.    

It’s not going to be the kind of mammoth event that Rajinikanth movies usually are, but how much will that matter for a film that has already made ₹230 cr? The real impact will no doubt be on Rajinikanth’s budding political career.

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