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'Discuss and Disagree, But Why Ban?' Asks Singer TM Krishna on 'Annapoorani' Row

"I don't believe in any kind of blanket ban – even if they're ideas I don't agree with," he tells The Quint.

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Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

"I don't believe in any kind of blanket ban – even if they are ideas I don't agree with. I don't believe anything should be banned," said Carnatic singer TM Krishna on the recent outrage against Nayanthara-starrer 'Annapoorani' that has led to streaming platform Netflix taking the film down. Krishna, who's a Magsaysay Award winner and is known for his vocal political stances, was speaking to The Quint at the seventh edition of the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode, which was held from 11-14 January.

Read edited excerpts below.

In a recent opinion piece, you talked about the 'Bollywoodisation' of literature festivals in India. Could you please elaborate on that?

Let me be very clear: it's not about people from various fields of activity, including cinema, being part of a literature festival. But what is a literature festival? Is it just a conclave where people are just expressing their opinions? A literature festival is about books, it's about ideas, it's about thought, it's about conceptions of living. That's what literature is all about, it's about culture.

I think we need to be more specific about why we are inviting people. It may also be about pleasing a sponsor or getting enough footfall. Then how is it different from any other mass production? Does everything in life have to be a mass production? If you say yes, then 90 percent of the authors here have no role in society. Because not everyone is going to sell a million copies. But does that make their activity less important?

I understand the balance that needs to be struck and the economical logistics. I am not disagreeing. But of late, I am seeing lit fests popping up in places where nobody can go. They're for an exclusively invited audience, who talk to themselves! You also have lit fests where inane conversations happen, let me be blunt. That's for a conclave or a media gathering. This is 'Bollywoodisation'.

I am using 'Bollywoodisation' and not cinema; there's a difference. I have a problem with a new word, 'massification' – with the idea that that's the basis on which literature festivals are happening. It's getting to the point of being irrelevant.

And I am speaking as a writer; I am here at a literature festival; I am saying this because I am an insider. I am saying this because I am concerned, and it's not just to point fingers.

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Of late, there has been a trend of celebrities toeing the line with the ruling dispensation – be it with their online or offline interactions. The barrage of tweets on promoting tourism in Lakshadweep Island points to one such instance. What is your take on this?

The argument that will be thrown at you is that some of these artistes really believe in that. There are artistes who believe that they should toe the line of the government. They probably trust this government. That's their choice and I can live with that.

But then, there is also another set of artistes who do this because they're scared that tomorrow, when they release their films, there would be a gherao. I find that problematic.

If the people with immense power, immense social standing are so afraid, how can you expect the common person to raise their voice? You can't. How can we expect the common person to come on the street and ask for their basic right? The same characters who put out these tweets talk about how the common person should fight. But you are not fighting! You have so much power, it's okay if you lose Rs 2 crore actually, right? Nothing is going to happen to you. For that person, even Rs 10 makes a difference.

But you are not willing to make that sacrifice – and say so much is at stake. So, are you then saying if there is more money at stake, you are more timid? Are you then saying if you have more social standing, timidity increases? So, it's only the poor and the marginalised who should always raise their voice? If they get killed, hammered, or put in jail, you and I don't care about it? Honestly, this is ugly, it's inhuman, it's selfishness at its best.

How do you view the boycott culture in India, in light of Netflix being 'forced' to take down the film 'Annapoorani' over a complaint by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which claimed that some scenes in the movie "hurt Hindu sentiments"?

I am a Brahmin by birth. I know tons of people from the Brahmin community eat meat, including beef. So, what nonsense is this?

I don't believe in any kind of blanket ban – even if they're ideas I don't agree with. I don't believe anything should be banned. I think the liberal world should also think about this. Because we make the same mistake on the other side. If we don't like something, we say it should be banned. No.

I think everything should be argued and discussed. Disagree vehemently, fine. Fight on Twitter, fine. But there is no question of threatening and banning. Then we're not a civilised space.

The VHP and the RSS get a lot of funding from the United States, where tons of upper-caste Brahmin NRIs live. What do they think – that they're eating vegetarian food? Who are they kidding? Ask them to stop taking money from any family that eats meat. Please ask them to put out a declaration saying 'all funders of VHP and RSS must henceforth declare that they're vegetarians'. Then I will admit they have a point. But this whole thing about sentiments being hurt and making it difficult for everybody – that's just not done.

I have been banned, it has happened to me, so I know how it feels!

How important is art in speaking truth to power?

There are always artistes with different takes on this. There are artistes who come with agendas. The moment you come in with any agenda, you only see one thing. You don't see anything else.

You may not actually believe that what you're doing is manipulation. You may actually believe that that's the truth. I am not going to paint anyone as an evil hate-monger. I think some of them are so brainwashed, or so filled with an agenda, that they don't see reality. Along with the many conniving human beings, there are many like this.

I think it is important to engage in conversations with them. Maybe there is something I don't see. Maybe I am insensitive to something.

One thing that every artiste should assure themselves of is honesty, integrity, and willingness to listen. If you can assure yourself of this, it means you don't surround yourself with 'yes people'. It mean you are willing to open yourself up. If you can be this, your art will reflect it.

Honesty is also non-agenda-driven. Honesty allows you to notice your agenda. That is all I expect from an artise. We can disagree with the art, but the art will have shades of grey. When art is black or white, it's usually a lie. Art exists only in that gap.

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