Mahesh Kathi is known as the motormouth film critic in the Telugu film circles. Apart from his no-holds-barred reviews, his personal statements against actors and film personalities have raked up controversies in the past. But what came as a surprise was his recent six-month externment from Hyderabad.
It all happened during a recent television debate on the sedition case against rationalist Babu Gogineni. The film critic engaged in a war of words with Hindu seer Paripoorananda Saraswati of the Kakinada Sri Peetham, and reportedly said, “For me, Ramayana is just another story… I believe Rama is as much a cheater (dagulbhaji) as he is an ideal in that story. And I think perhaps Sita would have been better, might have gotten justice if she had stayed with Ravana. What’s wrong in that?”
In a press conference held in Hyderabad on Monday, Telangana DGP Mahender Reddy released a statement which read, “Certain elements with ulterior motives have been trying to hurt sentiments of a particular religion, causing disharmony, feeling of enmity and hatred between various groups and castes by airing personal views in public domain through electronic media or otherwise.” Citing that Kathi attempted to “disturb the peace in Hyderabad and Telangana state at large”, they extrerned him from the city and asked him not to re-enter without permission.
The Hyderabad Police registered a case against Kathi under the IPC section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) and questioned him. Following this, he was externed to Chittoor under the Telangana Prevention of Anti-Social and Hazardous Activities Act. According to the latest reports, the Hyderabad Police Commissioner has externed Swami Paripoornananda too, for six months.
With charges so harsh, one might expect that Mahesh Kathi would be getting a lot of support from within and outside the film industry. But that’s not the case.
Filmmaker Gautami Challagula is one of the few people who have spoken against the police action. “If Mahesh Kathi said something unconstitutional, then he should be arrested or kept under house arrest. This action of externing him from the city is absolutely rubbish. Looks like history is repeating itself in the same ugly manner in which the University of Hyderabad had treated Rohit Vemula. I am no fan of Kathi, but the charges against him are not a good sign. All those who are rejoicing the move need to understand that this is the sign of an unhealthy democracy and if we do not raise our voice at this juncture, we are digging our own graves and encouraging fundamentalist voices to rise,” she said adding that though the move is lawfully right, it nevertheless is archaic.
YouTube star Sandeep Raj, on the hand, believes that Kathi had it coming. “If you have seen the way Mahesh Kathi behaves, you would clearly understand that he has no fear of the system. He says whatever he feels like – it’s an abuse of freedom of speech. Leave aside who Rama was and what he stands for, it’s a fact that he doesn’t value the belief system of crores of people. This is a good thing to happen as people have reached a saturation point,” he added. As an afterthought, he added, “I don’t think this will reform him.”
Even people on social media are divided, while few have come out in support of Kathi, there are many who have expressed their approval of the action taken against the film critic. A leading filmmaker who is set to work with a star soon, said on the condition of anonymity, “It’s sad that such a move wasn’t taken earlier. This guy goes overboard every time he has to air an opinion on an issue. He has done this time and again. There needs to be a sense of harmony and zero negativity. One might wonder, will it make any difference by removing one person? But mark my words, there is too much of Kathi on television ever since his stint in Bigg Boss. People will see the difference without him participating in all these debates.”
A film critic, Mahesh Kathi has also made a few films which did not fare well at the box office. He gained attention particularly after his blatant criticism of Pawan Kalyan and his politics. After the release of Agnyaathavaasi, Mahesh Kathi was trolled by Pawan Kalyan fans, following which he wrote on Facebook, “Most of my Facebook friends are asking me to lodge a police complaint against PK fans sending abusive comments and death threats. Fact of the matter is, most of them are teenage kids. My heart goes out for them when ever such madness comes out of them. PK has become a virus. He is more dangerous than HIV that is eating away a generations rational behaviour and civic sense. We need a social cure for such madness. Not legal solution.”
Rapper and lyricist Pranav Chaganty, whose latest work was in Kaala, said, “While I think the move was a bit too harsh, it was needed to rein in Mahesh Kathi. We have all been hearing his statements for a long time now and he is very crude in the way he talks. There are different ways to say the same thing and he chooses the worst way. He might be right but his words come with a lot of negativity. I hope this will bring about a change in him and will keep him in control.”