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‘Sarkar’ Controversy, and The Road To Release

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Sarkar Movie Stills - Vijay, AR Murugadoss

After having hit a roadblock during the run-up to its release on November 6, director A.R.Murugadoss’ Sarkar has managed to come out of the storm almost unscathed. The makers of the Vijay-starrer have confirmed that the movie will release as per schedule on Deepavali day.

An NRI business tycoon returning to his country to cast his vote finds out that it has already been cast by someone else – this is at the core of the movie; an idea that assistant director Varun Rajendran said he explored in his script Sengol.

Rajendran, who also claims to have narrated the story to Vijay’s father S.A. Chandrashekhar, lodged a complaint with the South Indian Writer’s Association (SWAN) with whom he had registered his story back in 2007. The association, after having investigated the matter, decided to back Rajendran in his claim against director AR Murugadoss.

K Bhagyaraj, writer and director, and head of the Writers’ union, issued a statement saying that Sengol was indeed Sarkar, which AR Murugadoss took offense to. Murugadoss demanded to know how Bhagyaraj came to the conclusion when he had neither read the script nor seen the film. Meanwhile, Varun Rajendran went to court, just in time too, for Sun Pictures, the production house, had obtained a caveat from the Madras High Court which required anyone who had issues with the movie to take it up the with them first.

With the stage set for a long drawn out battle and the fans worried whether they’d be able to celebrate the festival along with their superstar in the theatres, the movie’s release was heading towards an uncertainty. Some of the more outspoken fans of Vijay, on social media, claimed Varun was doing this only for publicity, and to make money. Some others supported AR Murugadoss, and claimed that the core of the plot does not a movie make.

The court had listed the case for a hearing on 30th October, last Tuesday. However, to the surprise of many, Varun Rajendran was not present at the hearing, but Murugadoss and Sun Pictures informed the court that they had reached an out of court settlement and the matters were settled amicably.

There had been numerous reports that Rajendran had sought 30 lakh compensation and a blanket ban on the movie – a claim he has denied after reaching the settlement.

It was also reported that Rajendran had battled for a writing credit; Murugadoss came out with a video saying that only the ‘story-spark’ bore a resemblance to Rajendran’s story and that the writing and directing credits will reside solely with him.

Instead, the director has resorted to merely displaying a title card at the start of the movie where he says that he commends Rajendran for having imagined the idea before he did. At the end of this letter, he also appreciates the writer’s union for having identified a talented colleague. It seems that Murugadoss believes Rajendran’s ability to think along his lines and muster up the same thoughts as him is worthy talent.

 

Any filmmaker will vouch that the fundamental problem faced by their industry is the dearth of quality writers. During a recent roundtable conducted with a group of writers including Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor, Piku), Varun Grover (Masaan, Sacred Games) and Himanshu Sharma (Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhnaa), more than the lack of pay what they talked about was how tedious writing as a process was; a fact that most producers overlooked.

In case a writer who was just starting out managed to brave such adversaries and came up with a script only for a situation similar to Varun Rajendran’s to befall upon him, they’d simply refuse to part with their script and wait to turn directors themselves or rather turn to other fields of filmmaking. Either way, the crisis is gets aggravated.

Title credits or no credits, the perception seems to be that Varun Rajendran has scored an important victory for the writers, and that in future big name directors will be more careful about where they source inspiration for their films from. The South Indian Film Writers’ Association has also received a much-needed publicity boost, and will probably be able to do their work with renewed vigour.

Murugadoss is not a first-timer when it comes to plagiarism charges. Although Ghajini came first and had its share of criticism, Murugadoss had his first real brush with plagiarism charges with the 2014 film Kaththi. It was mired in controversy when Minjur Gopi and Anbu Rajashekhar, in separate charges, staked claim to the story of the movie. Then Kaththi and now Sarkar – the fact that both these controversies happened right under the watch of a big star like Vijay is appalling.

As the saying goes, ‘once is a mistake, twice is habit’, the actor ought to have paid attention as it is his reputation too that takes a hit every single time his name gets dragged into these situations. Their failure to check the repeated occurrence of such situations hints at complicity from their part.

As an official from the Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council pointed out during the controversy, lack of an institutionalized setup to help address the concerns of writers also plagues the industry.

But all is well, that ends well, at least for Vijay fans. The film will indeed release on November 6th, and is already the clear favourite to rake in the money. Perhaps a bit too much. Thanthi TV reports that the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has ordered the district administration to terminate the licenses of those theatres selling tickets at higher prices for Sarkar. 

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