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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 18:07 GMT
Bollywood ban in language fight

By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

A burqa-clad mother queues up with her child outside a cinema in southern India, looking forward to seeing her favourite Bollywood star, Sharukh Khan, in the new Bollywood blockbuster, Veer-Zaara.

Poster and sign in Bangalore cinema
A no-show for Bollywood's Veer-Zaara
Her excitement, however, is shadowed by fear.

Policemen are frisking ticket holders at the gates as a security measure in the wake of threats to disrupt the first screenings of the film in the city.

The film has been screened in defiance of an unofficial moratorium imposed by the local film industry on new films not made in Kannada, the language of Karnataka state.

Police are taking no chances as the threat is real.

This ban on Hindi, English and other language films is taking place in the city of Bangalore, often presented as the modern face of India.

The hawkish stand of Kannada-language organisations stems from a fear of being reduced to a minority because of a big influx of people, particularly from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

Tamils form over 30% of Bangalore's six million population.

'Bad image'

Underneath the gloss and glitter of Bangalore's hi-tech life, there is what many see as a streak of intolerance, reflected in the crackdown on films of languages other than Kannada.

Statue of Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar
Under wraps - the statue of Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar

"It gives the city a bad image," says Samuel, a software engineer.

This cosmopolitan city is the most favoured destination for multinational companies like IBM, Motorola, Intel and Philips.

It is also home to Indian global information technology giants Infosys and Wipro besides various ethnic and linguistic groups from all over the country

"Where is the spirit of tolerance? How can you impose such an order?" asks K Subramaniam of the film ban.

As a Tamil, he has other reasons to be opposed to those promoting the Kannada language.

He and other Tamils are fighting a legal battle to unveil a statue of Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar.

The statue has been covered in sackcloth in central Bangalore for more than a decade because of opposition from some Kannada organisations.


Prominent socialist politician, AK Subbaiah, is a strong critic of the ban on non-Kannada language films.

Everybody should join hands to protect the Kannada language
Chandrashekar Kambara,
Kannada writer
"It is anti-constitutional, illegal, and anti-social. Nobody can justify such a ban," he argues.

The Supreme Court in Delhi has ordered that the ban be lifted.

But cinemas across Bangalore fear adverse consequences if they do not toe the pro-Kannada line.

Only three of the 108 theatres in Bangalore have dared to screen Veer-Zaara - and they have had police protection.

Stand defended

Kannada film producers say the moratorium is justified because it is the only way of safeguarding the local film industry which has been hit by losses and poor audiences.

They have received support from many Kannada writers.

"Everybody should join hands to protect the Kannada language," says Kannada writer, Chandrashekar Kambara, who took part in a protest outside one of the cinemas that defied the ban.

Pro-Kannada language protesters
Pro-Kannada groups see their language as being under threat

Police Commissioner S Mariswamy says protection will be given to all cinemas screening new non-Kannada films.

But the owners are sceptical.

"There is an atmosphere of fear," says RP Odugoudar, chairman of the Karnataka Film Exhibitors Federation.

The loss estimated to the film industry because of the ban since it was effected in August is said to be nearly $20m.

"Bangalore is a great place but it is being spoilt by some elements," says Manoj, a businessman from northern India.

Anti-Tamil riots in Bangalore in 1991 over the dispute of sharing Cauvery river water between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu left 20 dead.

Tamil-language channels were not allowed to be broadcast for over a month in protest against the kidnapping of Kannada film icon Rajkumar by bandit Veerappan, a Tamil, in 2000.

It is not just Tamils that have been targeted. In the past, English signboards have been tarred as part of the campaign to promote Kannada.

The Bollywood film industry has petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lift the ban.

After meeting Mr Singh, politician Amar Singh, who led the film delegation, warned: "The ban is not merely injurious to the health of the Indian film industry, but it also has the seed of generating linguistic confrontation all over the country."

Chief Minister of Karnataka Dharam Singh denies any government support for the ban and says he is trying to resolve the dispute through negotiations.

Bangalore - better by design
15 Dec 03 |  South Asia

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