CHENNAI: The old must always make way for the new. The Nadigar Sangam is no exception to this eternal rule, and so, on October 18, 2015, there was a change of guard. It had been coming though, and when it happened, nobody batted an eyelid. The ‘rebel’ group, championed by Vishal, had been making the right noises, fixing the right issues in its crosshairs.
In a sense, you could argue that the Sarathkumar-Radharavi faction perhaps underestimated these challengers. You could understand why — they had not faced any in some time. Sarathkumar had gone uncontested from the time he took over the reins from Vijayakanth in 2006, after the latter’s political foray made it untenable for him to hold his position.
Each time, Sarathkumar’s three-year term would end only to resume unceremoniously, and so it went for nine long years till voices of dissent began emerging — first in hushed whispers before slowly, but surely, becoming a pesky voice that was hard to ignore. Like the fractious wall in Pa Ranjith’s Madras, here too, it was an immovable object that created the seeds of animosity: the Nadigar Sangam building.
The Sarathkumar-led Nadigar Sangam had made plans to lease out the building to a private organisation — which in turn planned to reconstruct it as a commercial complex — in exchange for rental money and some space for the Sangam’s activities. As the demolition commenced, so did the outcry gain in strength. Vishal, by then, had already started emerging as a dynamic presence. Remember those videos — straight out of our films — that had him, armed with a video camera (and occasionally, with policemen), apprehending store owners selling pirated versions of Tamil films? It lived up to the angry man on a mission trope, and brimmed with the appeal of a celebrity unafraid to get his hands dirty. This was his chief appeal — that he wasn’t just one of those celebrities just posturing for reputation enhancement. He was out there, grovelling it out in unsophisticated stores, fighting for the industry.
All this went some way, I suspect, in lending potency and credibility to the disssenting voices led by Vishal, Nasser and Karthi. The elections arrived in 2015, and for the first time in over a decade, there was opposition — a team that called itself the Pandavar Ani. The title made it plenty evident who they thought the opposition was. The battle was won by the Pandavas, but if they had mistaken it for victory in war, they would go on to realise how wrong they were.
The win had been secured on several promises including insurance cover for members, annulment of the contract with the private organisation concerning the Nadigar Sangam building, and a state-of-the-art auditorium at the new complex to be erected. Arguably, chief among all the promises was the reconstruction of the Nadigar Sangam building and the plan to abolish piracy, a topic Vishal has always shown much interest in.
Work did commence on a new Nadigar Sangam building, with photos being regularly shared from the construction site. Even as recently as August last year, we got a group photograph from its premises. And yet, the building has still not been inaugurated, with previous deadlines not having been met. Notably, the Nadigar Sangam elections were postponed to accommodate the inauguration of this building, but with no new dates announced, the election is now upon us. The building isn’t.
Piracy, meanwhile, has proved to be a bigger monster to tackle. To the credit of Vishal’s team, this seems to be despite some concerted efforts by the anti-piracy cell managed by TFPC, of which Vishal became the President, shortly into his tenure as Nadigar Sangam’s General Secretary. Recognition for the work came from the central government which recognised TN’s anti-piracy cell as being the best in the country, last year. High praise, but the menace has hardly been curtailed. Every top film from Kabali to Kaala continue to make their way to piracy sites, and there’s no real outlet Vishal can storm into anymore with a video camera, it seems.
There’s a fair bit of confusion that prevails over how this invisible beast can be tamed.
You may agree or disagree about the success of Pandavar Ani’s three-year term, but there’s no denying that it has been momentous and full of drama. Among other issues, there was one brought the entire industry to a standstill for weeks. Vishal considers the industry shutdown in 2018 to be among his biggest achievements, on account of the results it fetched.
The strike began as a protest against the charges levied by Digital Service Providers. Persisting with it brought in a partial waiver, and Vishal seemed to have sensed an opportunity to bring more sweeping changes, including flexible ticket pricing, reduction in online booking charges, and quashing of the Virtual Print Fee. This was a massive strike that stopped all film-related work in the State, and caused the shutdown of almost 1,000 theatres. The decision to extend the strike resulted in the Virtual Print Fee getting almost halved. Weeks later, parking charges in theatres (outside of malls) were reduced.
As the tenure reached its final leg, the war between the factions regained its potency from sometime ago. As always, it began as hushed murmurs of unrest from a certain section of producers. This unrest, unaddressed, grew further, coinciding with the ending of the Nadigar Sangam term, and a group of producers including AL Azhagappan, T Siva, and Suresh Kamatchi demanded the express resignation of Vishal. Matters reached a crescendo when the TFPC office was sealed in December, and Vishal arrested for reportedly breaking in. Much to the chagrin of Vishal and team, the government stepped into the matter, and has now appointed its own, N Sekar, as a special officer to manage TFPC. It has made the end as sour, as the origins.
The elections have now returned, and the political games will continue. The other faction, this time, seems to have learned a lesson or two from their previous defeat, and seem to be mounting their campaign, less on promises and more on attacks on the Pandavar Ani. It remains to be seen if the Pandavas get sent on exile, but it must be said that while the old always makes way for the new, sometimes — just sometimes — the old does return, steadfast in its reluctance to make way. Game on.
Recognition for the work of Vishal’s team in tackling the piracy menace came from the Central government which recognised TN’s anti-piracy cell as being the best in the country
The strike in 2018 began as a protest against charges levied by Digital Service Providers, but it soon grew to include many demands, including flexible ticket pricing and reduction in online booking charges