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Prithviraj’s ‘Vaariyamkunnan’ caught in ‘historic’ muddle

KOCHI: The announcement of a new film by Aashiq Abu, based on the life of Variyankunnathu Kunjahammed Haji, has triggered a controversy with the Sangh Parivar coming out against the movie.
According to some history books on the freedom struggle in Kerala, Kunjahammed Haji is portrayed as a rebel who fought against the Britishers in the Mappila Rebellion of 1921. While Muslims and Left-liberals portray him as an unsung hero, the Sangh has always opposed him as someone who led a rebellion that committed atrocities against the Hindus of Malabar.

The Aashiq Abu movie — titled ‘Vaariyamkunnan’, with Prithviraj playing the title role — is set to cause a stir under the current socio-political circumstances. “The entire team has researched the topic and referred all available books and documents,” said Muhsin Parari, the co-director of the project.“It will be an effort to tell the tale of Kunjahammed Haji which was recorded in Kerala’s history. A documentary on him will also be made along with the movie.”

Recently, CPM leader M Swaraj, speaking in the Kerala Assembly, praised the role of Muslims in the freedom struggle and portrayed Haji as a true patriot. The Sangh, having protested Swaraj’s speech then, raised objections again after the announcement of the project on Monday.“The Mappila Rebellion had nothing to do with the freedom struggle,” said Prajna Pravah national convenor J Nandakumar.

“It was a planned massacre. Books like Malabar Kalapam written by K Madhavan Nair have mentioned the facts. Moreover, Ahmed Haji was a person with a shoddy background. There is a deliberate attempt from Leftists and a particular community to glorify him. Actors should desist from getting involved in such divisive campaigns.”

‘No major controversy during ‘1921’ release’

This is not for the first time that the Mappila Rebellion is being portrayed on Malayalam celluloid. The movie titled 1921 directed by the late IV Sasi was released in 1988 and was a huge hit. Actor T G Ravi portrayed the character of Kunjahammed Haji in the movie which has Mammootty playing Khader, the protagonist.

“There was no major controversy during the release of 1921. It was accepted as a commercial movie and was appreciated for its dynamism,” said veteran movie critic CS Venkateswaran. “However, the situation is different in 2020. The atmosphere is polarised and people active on the social media are waiting eagerly to magnify some topic or the other.”

N Gopalakrishnan, director of the Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage, was also critical of the project. “Movies are made to celebrate the virtues of personalities who strove for the well-being of humanity.
Ironically, a movie is being planned to glorify the acts of a person who massacred Hindus and fought against the British to oust the Khalifa, rather than for the freedom of his nation. It is easy these days to get funding for such movies, which misrepresent history. But let’s hope this movie doesn’t glorify this painful chapter of our history,” he said.Given that Aashiq Abu is a left sympathiser, the project is expected to generate heated debates. The director was unavailable for comment.

P T Kunju Muhammed too announces film on Variyankunnath Haji
On the same day when Aashiq Abu announced ‘Vaariyamkunnan’, another noted filmmaker P T Kunju Muhammed unveiled his latest movie ‘Shahid Variyankunnan’, based on the life of the same historical figure Variyankunnathu Kunjahammed Haji. The film shooting will begin once the actors and the technicians are finalised,  a release said here.

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