Vishwaroopam was released worldwide on January 25 with premiere shows in the Untied States and Canada. Malaysia banned the film a day after its release. Later, Sri Lanka also delayed release of the movie. Muslims constitute 8 percent of population of Malaysia. (Malaysian Indians are second largest group there with 15.5 percent) Sri Lanka too had similar statistic with Muslim accounting for 7.6 percent of the population, while the Tamil speaking population account for 8.5 percent of the total population. Both Sri Lanka and Malaysia may have their concerns and opted for ban to avoid communal tension. The statistics does reveal a huge market in these countries for the Tamil spy thriller.
When there is a mega market, it is natural that the protest and controversies court the film in a big way. It was evident in Kerala where the film was scheduled to release in 92 centers across the state, most of which were B class theatres. However, only 82 theatres released the movie. After a short break, the wave of protests invaded all the centres including Thiruvananthapuram. It was not spontaneous, but a pre-planned one.
In protest loving Kerala everything is political. It was the Popular Front and its political wing the Social Democratic Party of India which led protests in the state where Muslims constitute 24.5 percent of the total population. But, Indian Union Muslim League, the most popular political party and coalition partner of the ruling UDF was silent on Vishwaroopam. None of their vocal Muslim leaders in Kerala bothered to address this issue. Only KM Khader Mohideen, National General Secretary of IUML came forward to talk on Vishwaroopam. In fact, he tried to tell the world that the wave of protests were unwarranted. He wanted Kamal Hassan to remove few scenes in the movie. Seventy three year old Khader Mohideen who represented Vellore in the 14th Lok Sabha distanced himself from the protesting radical Muslim groups. Mohideen clearly pointed out that if any one has any objection to the film, they can appeal to the censor board for a review or approach the courts. Yes, his argument was sensible and he appealed against communalising the issue.
Soon after radical Muslim organisations unleashed protests against Vishwaroopam, CPI(M) came forward to give protection for the screening of the movie in Kerala. CPI(M) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has pointed out that it would be better if the critics of the film left it to the people to see and judge the movie instead of clamouring for its ban. That was a fair comment from Pinarayi. But, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of CPI(M) went a step further by showing support to Vishwaroopam, by deploying the volunteer squad around the theatres. Their leaders have announced that they would not allow screening of other movies in the state if Vishwaroopam is banned.
Then, it was the turn of BJP who sensed a great political potential over the controversy. They also rushed a protest march in favour of screening Vishwaroopam in Kerala. All television channels aired the waves of protests with live commentaries and talk shows. So, Vishwaroopam got immense publicity without spending a single paisa. All brandings are for catching your eye and later your heart. What more would Kamal Hassan want from Kerala where he commands huge fans?
The chain of protests and wild talks has generated curiosity about the film among the general public. The communal casting and its politics are certainly going to make Vishwaroopam a big hit. Knowingly or unknowingly, both Kamal Hassan and the radical Muslim leaders have helped the branding of the movie with a communal tag. The branding will help to spin money for the producers. But, it is a dangerous game. In future, more people will use same strategies to make a hit film. Everyone got a mileage out of Vishwaroopam. Kamal Hassan tricked a storm and got a million dollar publicity. The radical Muslim organisations with tiny mass base became instant celebrities and much wanted by the television channels. DYFI can claim that they are the only youth organisation which can uphold the secular credentials of India. BJP too rose to the occasion and got some publicity.