If it is 999, it must be our dam - TN parties feel film on disputed project backs Kerala

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  • Published 24.11.11

Chennai, Nov. 23: The floodgates have opened on a movie ominously titled DAM999, which some political parties in Tamil Nadu feel is toeing the line of neighbouring Kerala in a dispute between the states.

A section of Tamil Nadu politicians feels the movie, produced and directed by a Malayali businessman, relates to the controversy around the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam in central Kerala. Tamil Nadu holds the lease rights to the dam for 999 years — the suspected inspiration for the title of the 3D film — but Kerala says the reservoir has become too old and poses a huge risk to people living downstream.

Tamil Nadu suspects the relocation plan is intended at depriving the farmers of its southern districts of irrigation water and, in fact, wants to increase the height of the dam to collect more water. The dispute is pending before the Supreme Court.

Workers of the MDMK stormed a film studio in Chennai yesterday evening, demanding that producer-director Sohan Roy, who was to address a media conference, desist from releasing the movie that portrays a dam collapse.

The protesters burnt negatives, which they presumed to be of DAM999 but they turned out to be of a Telugu film.

While police rounded up the protesters, other Tamil groups like the PMK, VCK and Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam jumped into the fray, declaring that they would not permit the film to be screened as it backed Kerala’s position on the dam.

MDMK leader Vaiko, who underscored the “connection” between the lease period and the title of the movie, said Roy had already made a documentary called The Lethal Water Bombs on Mullaperiyar, which had echoed Kerala’s line that the dam was a disaster waiting to happen.

Shashi Tharoor, who represents Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha, tweeted: “Ok, here’s the score on Mullaperiyar. Kerala willing 2give TN all the water, but needs new dam. Quakes have caused cracks, grave danger. If Mullaperiyar dam bursts, it will take up to 25 lakh lives, destroy Kerala’s economy &change India’s geography. It must be replaced.”

Roy, who hurriedly returned to Dubai, issued a statement saying that the film had nothing to do with Mullaperiyar.

“There is no mention of Mullaperiyar in the movie and it is actually a tribute to the people of Dam Banqiao (a reservoir on the River Ru in China) that collapsed in 1975 and killed 2.5 lakh people,” he said.

Shot in Kerala, Ooty in Tamil Nadu and in Dubai, the film has been made in English with mostly Indian actors and technicians. It has been dubbed in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu and is slated for release on Friday.

Roy, who was born in Nallur in Idukki district, started out in the merchant navy and now runs Marine BizTV, a maritime TV channel, and also other industries related to shipping out of Dubai.

“He is passionate about movies and hence scripted DAM999 and decided to make it like a real Hollywood thriller. So much so he even registered the movie in Hollywood and applied the same production standards seen in Hollywood movies,” explained Ouseppachan, the film’s music director.

Ouseppachan explained that the 999 referred to nine characters modelled on the nine rasas and how the film’s climax is influenced by astrology and nine planets. “The movie actually shows the dam being inaugurated by ministers and its collapse is attributed to corruption and use of inferior materials. It is all about a dam built in the present. So, how can it refer it to an old dam like Mullaperiyar?” he asked.

With Tamil groups unrelenting, the film’s distributors have deferred the release of the Tamil version but plan to go ahead with its release in other languages outside Tamil Nadu.

Roy has offered to organise a special screening for leaders of Tamil Nadu’s political parties to prove that it has nothing to do with the inter-state dam row. The politicians have not yet responded to the offer.