Needless Controversy Over the Tamil Film Annapoorani


  • January 12, 2024
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Groundxero | 12th January, 2024

 

Tamil film Annapoorani: The Goddess of Food has been removed from Netflix amid complaints that it hurt religious sentiments of Hindus, especially Brahmins. The film was released in theatres in Tamil Nadu last year, on 1 December. The film was a box-office failure and was later launched on OTT platform Netflix. Ever since the Hindi-dubbed version of the film started streaming on Netflix from December 29, it sparked an outrage among Hindutva supporters and has faced virulent protests with claims that it contained “controversial” remarks about Hindu God Ram and “promoted love jihad”.

 

Police in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur registered an FIR against Nayanthara, who played the lead female character in the film, and many others involved with the film based on a complaint by a group called Hindu Sewa Parishad.

 

On January 6, a person named Ramesh Solanki, who identified himself as the founder of a group called Hindu IT Cell, also filed a complaint in Mumbai against lead actors  Nayanthara and Jai, writer-director Nilesh Krishnaa, producers Jatin Sethi, R Ravindran, and Punit Goenka, Zee Studios Chief Business Officer Shariq Patel, and the head of Netflix India, Monika Shergill.

 

Shriraj Nair, a spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an outfit of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), warned Netflix on X to “immediately withdraw this evil movie of yours or else be ready to face legal consequences and @BajrangDalOrg style action.

 

Vinod Bansal, VHP’s national spokesperson also demanded Netflix “must stop showing the anti Hindu anti Ramayana movie and apologise to the Hindu community immediately.”

 

Following the backlash from right-wing Hindutva fanatic forces, on 10 January, the makers of Annapoorani issued a formal apology to VHP and withdrew their film from the OTT platform.

 

We republish here Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s post on Facebook regarding the controversy raked up over the film. Shuddhabrata  writes:

 

Another needless controversy over censorship, provoked, as usual, by brainless Hindutva hot-heads has broken out. This time it’s over the recent Tamil film ‘Annapoorani’, starring the actors Nayanthara, Jai and Sathyaraj, directed by Nilesh Krishnaa.

 

The story of the film is interesting. A Brahmin girl (Annapoorani, played by Nayanthara) dreams of being a chef. She enrols secretly (so as to avoid the disapproval of her strict, vegetarian father) in a hotel management course to train how to cook gourmet food. She faces the dilemma of having to cook meat dishes. Her friend, a Muslim man (Farhan, played by Jai), convinces her that there is nothing necessarily wrong in cooking meat by citing a verse from Valmiki’s Ramayana, in Sanskrit, which features Rama and Lakshmana hunting animals and cooking meat to assuage their hunger.

 

This has led to Hindu zealots being up in arms. Because delicate Hindu vegetarian sensibilities have been injured by the mere idea that Rama could be spoken of as eating meat, and that too at the time when the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ (‘Life Establishment’) ritual in the idol of Rama in the new temple at Ayodhya is about to take place. Matters are further complicated by the fact that this occurs in the context of a friendship between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. So, not just the question of culinary blasphemy, but also the civilisational catastrophe of ‘love jihad’ are invoked. Police complaints against the filmmakers have been filed, naturally, in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. And now Netflix, the OTT platform where the film was being screened, has decided to remove the film. Zee Studios, the producers of the film, have offered an ‘apology’, needlessly, for having ‘hurt Hindu sentiments’.

 

Can Rama, Lakshmana and Sita eat meat? Can we even think such a thought? Apparently Valmiki didn’t have such a problem entertaining this thought.

 

The scene in the film (I have seen this scene) which has made the Hindutva hot heads so hot and bothered features a conversation on a staircase between the Hindu female protagonist and her Muslim man friend. He recites a passage from the Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit to address her crisis about cooking meat. That verse is:

 

तौ तत्र हत्वा चतुरो महामृगान्

वराहमृश्यं पृषतं महारुरुम्।

आदाय मेध्यं त्वरितं बुभुक्षितौ

वासाय काले ययतुर्वनस्पतिम्।।2.52.102।।

 

I find nothing per-se exceptional in a Muslim character citing a passage in Sanskrit from the Valmiki Ramayana. The best and most accessible English translation from the Valmiki Ramayana into English has been done by a Sanskrit scholar, Arshia Sattar, who, incidentally, happens to be a Muslim.

 

Although I am not a Hindu, I do read the Valmiki Ramayana, as a work of epic poetry. And I read it in Sanskrit.

 

The passage in question is from the Ayodhya Kanda, Chapter: 52, Verse: 102. (No, it is not from the so-called ‘interpolated’ sections of the Uttara-Kanda, as is being tom-tommed by some fools).

 

The passage describes a moment, early in Rama’s exile, when, having just left Ayodhya and crossed the river Sarayu, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, arrive in the territory of Vatsa, and tired, and hungry, decide to eat and spend the night under a tree.

 

Let’s look carefully at the passage. I offer a rough translation here –

“Famished ( बुभुक्षितौ / bubhukshitau) they (Rama and Lakshmana) there, then, ( तौ तत्र / tau yatra) killed/hunted ( हत्वा / hatvā) four species of large animals ( चतुरो महामृगान् / chaturo mahāmrigān) : wild boar ( वराह / varaha ), white footed antelope ( मृश्यं mrishyam), spotted deer (पृषतं / prishatam) and the great stag with black stripes (महारुरुम् / maharurum) ; ate ( आदाय / adaya) the meat ( मेध्यं / medhyam) quickly (त्वरितं / tvaritam) and rested underneath a tree ( वासाय / vasaya…ययतुर्वनस्पतिम् / yayaturvanaspatim) in the evening time (काले / kālē).”

 

Anyone with any doubts about these words and their meanings can consult any standard Sanskrit lexicon.

 

It’s fun to look for meat eating in the Valmiki Ramayana – it’s literally all over the text – but here’s another citation that is handy. In the 34th and 35th verses of the 56th section (which describes Rama, Lakshmana’s and Sita’s arrival at Chitrakuta during the early period of their forest exile) of the 2nd book (Ayodhya Kanda) of the Valmiki Ramayana there is another, similar reference to meat eating. I’m offering the Sanskrit original, a Roman phonetic transliteration, followed by a Hindi and a rough English translation by me. The original text of this specific passage, and several translations, in different languages, are not difficult to find online. Those really interested might want to consult the text of the critical, annotated, edition of the Valmiki Ramayana (in Seven Volumes) first published in 1962 by the Oriental Institute of the MS University, Baroda.

 

So here it is:

वन्यैर्मालयैह फलैरमुउलाईह पक्वैरमांसैर्यथाविधि ।

अदभारजापैश्च वेदोक्ताई रधरभिष्का ससमितकुशाईह || 2.56.34

ताऊ तर्पेयत्वा भूतनी राघवौ सह सितया |

तदा विविशतुः शालम सुशुभां शुभलक्षनौ || 2.56.35

 

vanyairmālyaiḥ phalairmūlaiḥ pakvairmāṃsairyathāvidhi।

adbhirjapaiśca vedoktairdarbhaiśca sasamitkuśaiḥ।।2.56.34।।

tau tarpayitvā bhūtāni rāghavau saha sītayā।

tadā viviśatu śśālāṃ suśubhāṃ śubhalakṣaṇau।।2.56.35।।

 

‘राम-लक्ष्मण ने सीता सहित शुभ लक्षणों से युक्त वन में प्राप्त फूलों के मुकुट, फलों की जड़ों और पके हुए मांस से, जल से, पवित्र ग्रंथों (वेदों) में वर्णित प्रार्थनाओं द्वारा, पवित्र घास से, वहाँ के भूत और देवगणों को तृप्त किया। ईंधन और कुशा घास साथ लिए और फिर शुभ पत्ते से निर्मित झोपड़ी में प्रवेश किया।’

 

‘Rama Lakshmana and Sita, satisfied the forest sprites with crowns of auspicious flowers found in the forest, with offerings of fruits, edible roots, and meat, cooked well, as per the proper method, with water, while uttering prayers from the Vedas, with fuel for fire and tufts of sacred Kusa grass, and then, having done all this, they entered the hut made of auspicious leaves.’

 

There really isn’t any getting around the fact that the compound word – ‘पक्वैरमांसैर्यथाविधि’ / ‘pakvairmāṃsairyathāvidhi’ – means one, and only one thing – ‘meat, well cooked, as per the proper method’.

 

I had in fact referred to this very passage in a Facebook post written and uploaded by me on 10th of April, 2022, when ABVP thugs had attacked students in JNU for cooking and eating meat on Ram Navami, once again, because they think that nothing to do with Rama must be touched by the faintest hint of anything carnivore.

 

Hindutva is boring, soulless, monotonous and repetitive. The same problems are regurgitated endlessly. And it has bad taste in matters of love and nourishment. I have no issues with people being vegetarian or vegan for whatever reason. But to force a culture of vegetarianism on to people who prefer eating meat is an act of arrogance and cultural violence. When it is done on the basis of fake scriptural authority it gets laughable.

 

Get, as they say, a life.

 

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