Bangalore, April 21: Actor Sathyaraj today apologised to Kannadigas for his provocative comments to pave the way for the release of Bahubali 2: The Conclusion in the state, but drew attention to similar "passionate" speeches by Kannada actors and made it clear he would continue to fight for the rights of Tamils.
Pro-Kannada activists had threatened to stall the movie in the state over the derogatory comments the actor, who plays Katappa in the two-part film, had made about the Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Kannada activists will meet in Bangalore tomorrow to take a call on whether to allow the release of the movie, on April 28.
In a video message in Tamil, Sathyaraj expressed his "heartfelt apologies" to Kannadigas who had felt offended by his remarks.
He recalled how Tamils had come under attack in Karnataka nine years ago during an agitation over the Cauvery dispute. Then, no Tamil films were allowed in Karnataka, leading to a protest by the Tamil film fraternity.
"Against that backdrop, lots of people had spoken with a lot of passion. I was one of them," he said.
Sathyaraj as Katappa in the Bahubali movie
In an old video that surfaced last week, Sathyaraj is seen urging Tamils purportedly at a demonstration by the Tamil film industry in solidarity with farmers seeking water from Karnataka to stand up for their rights and not be passive like a tree every dog would urinate on.
Pro-Kannada groups objected to the "dog" reference that they felt was about Karnataka residents opposing the release of Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu. Their leader, Vatal Nagaraj, called for a state-wide shutdown on April 28, the day the Bahubali sequel is slated to release.
In today's apology, Sathyaraj didn't mince words about similar sentiments displayed in Karnataka as well. "In similar protests held in Karnataka, lots of Kannada actors had spoken with a lot of passion," he said.
"I understand that some of my words had hurt Kannadigas. But I am not against Kannadigas and the proof is in Shekhar, my assistant for the past 30 years, whose mother tongue is Kannada," the actor said.
"Over the past nine years, some 30 of my films, including Bahubali: The Beginning, released in Karnataka and there were no issues then. I was even offered roles in Kannada films, which I couldn't accept for shortage of time," he said.
Although Sathyaraj and Bahubali director S.S. Rajamouli, who yesterday uploaded a video on Facebook appealing to the pro-Kannada groups to allow the release of Bahubali 2: The Conclusion in Karnataka, have said the video in which the actor made the derogatory remarks is nine years old, the activists claim it was shot last year.
Yesterday, Rajamouli had said if the release of the film was halted in Karnataka, it would hurt the producers and distributors, not Sathyaraj. The director had said the film's team had spoken to Sathyaraj and explained the situation to him.
As if picking up from there, Sathyaraj said: "I am only a small worker of this huge film Bahubali. I don't want my actions to adversely affect the thousands of people who have worked in the film."
Sathyaraj reading out his apology to the people of Karnataka
"I request those producers who might feel their films might get affected by casting me not to approach this small actor any more," he added. "You should not bear any losses because of me as beyond an actor, I am a Tamil."
Sathyaraj said it was his duty to protect the interests of the film's distributors in Karnataka.
"Even in the future, I will fight for the rights of Tamil people, be it in Tamil Eelam (northern Sri Lanka), the Cauvery issue or our farmers. Beyond an actor," said Sathyaraj, who has always been vocal about the interests of Tamil people.
The president of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce, Sa Ra Govindu, acknowledged Sathyaraj's plea.
"We wanted Sathyaraj to apologise, which he has now. This is a victory for Kannadigas," he said.
The final decision on the release of the film will be taken tomorrow. "All Kannada groups are meeting tomorrow to take a final call on the release," said Govindu, who is also a film producer.
The protesters had ignored yesterday's plea by Rajamouli and gone ahead with a demonstration today where Sathyaraj's effigy was burnt. The actor had not released his video message then.
Karnataka is a major market for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, besides Hindi. Bahubali: The Beginning, one of the biggest blockbusters in India, had done exceptionally well in Karnataka.
Originally shot in Telugu and Tamil, Bahubali: The Beginning was dubbed in Malayalam and Hindi. Within the first 20 days of the release, the film had raked in Rs 50 crore in Karnataka, the second highest collection after Andhra Pradesh.
Bahubali 2: The Conclusion is slated to be released in 300 theatres in Karnataka, 100 more than the first part.