Ram Gopal Varma and controversy continue to go together. This time in Vijayawada, the city he grew up in. After the court cleared the release of his film `Lakshmi’s NTR’ on 1 May in Andhra Pradesh, Varma arrived in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh to address the media as part of the pre-release publicity.
The film had released in the rest of India on 29 March but it was put off in the Andhra market, fearing trouble ahead of the 11 April elections. The film that focused on the last couple of years of NT Rama Rao’s life, portrayed Chandrababu Naidu as a negative character who overthrew his father-in-law in a political coup in August 1995. The film depicts how NTR, unable to recover from the shock of the betrayal, died five months later.
But Novotel hotel where Varma was to address the media at 4 pm reportedly cancelled the booking. According to Varma, so did Ilapuram hotel. Varma then threatened to speak to the press sitting on the road at NTR Circle for which permission was denied by the cops.
Funnily, Varma claimed he was in police custody and that his “insta, facebook, twitter live” was blocked but he continued to tweet, claiming in capital letters “THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY IN ANDHRA PRADESH”.
The reaction of the hospitality industry in Vijayawada was not unexpected. It is obvious the hotels did not want to take a chance with their premises being vandalised by Telugu Desam activists who would not want their leader to be shown in an unflattering light.
The movie had released to cold reviews and going by the reaction of fans in Telangana, it was unlikely to set the box-office on fire in Andhra. But it looks like the TDP would not allow even a mediocre product to be screened in Andhra Pradesh. The reasons are political as the producer of
Lakshmi's NTR', Rakesh Reddy is associated with the YSR Congress. So is NTR's widow, Lakshmi Parvati. Even Jaganmohan Reddy joined in the controversay, accusing the government of ``gagging” Varma.
The question that arises is who asked the police to detain Varma. Was it Chandrababu Naidu because as interim CM, already the Election Commission is in a running battle with him over the limitations of his powers. Or was it the police, eager to stay in Naidu’s good books. What it did was to hurt Varma’s right to earn his livelihood by promoting his product.
The only reason for the interest in the film was because `NTR’, the two-part biopic produced by his son, Nandamuri Balakrishna did not go beyond 1984 and showed Naidu in a positive light. For those familiar with modern Andhra politics, the 1995 episode was an important turning point in the state’s history.
Will the TDP now allow the movie to be released or will it adopt the strategy of parties like the Shiv Sena in Mumbai that go on the rampage at cinema halls? Will exhibitors want to take the risk of screening `Lakshmi’s NTR’ in Andhra Pradesh?
By the end of the day, the Varma episode only provided content to meme-makers who had a field day with GIFs.