BJP drowns in its own shock and Mersal

Many view the whole episode as a BJP tactic to gain political mileage in a state where its following is weak.

BJP drowns in its own shock and Mersal
Tamil Nadu BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan would not have dreamt even in her wildest dreams of the unexpected publicity she seems to have given actor Vijay’s Mersal, which hit the screens on Diwali. Any publicity is good in the world of movies and as luck would have it, Mersal (meaning ‘awe’, in Tamil) got it from expected quarters. Tamilisai’s peeve was that GST and demonetisation ushered in by the Narendra Modi government were portrayed in a bad light. Soon, Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, too, joined the chorus. 

The film has a scene where comedian Vadivelu, making a comeback to the screen after a hiatus as Vijay’s sidekick, is being waylaid by a robber. Intended to be in a lighter vein, he remarks that in ‘Digital India’, pockets are empty and all we have is long queues.

In another scene, Vijay remarks that Singapore which collects 7% GST is able to provide free healthcare, while India which collects 28% GST fails miserably. There is also a reference to government hospitals being ill-equipped, an unmistakable recalling of the Gorakhpur tragedy, where children still continue to die. 

Further adding fuel to the fire was the communal turn the BJP sought to give to the controversy when its leader H Raja put out Vijay’s voter ID card to harp on the fact that Vijay is Christian. This was Raja hitting back at a dialogue in the movie that hinted that the government was more interested in building temples than hospitals.

Raja wanted to make the point that Vijay, being a Christian, was targeting Hindus, while not speaking on the rise in the number of churches in the state. But this religious slur seems to have backfired on the politician, on top of the fact that he had watched a pirated version of the movie online. Vishal, the head of the Tamil Film Producers’ Council and general secretary of the South Indian Artistes’ Association, came out in support of the film, and lashed out at Raja. 

Initially, the film’s makers agreed to delete the scenes from the movie but seem to have backtracked after overwhelming support poured in from all quarters, political parties and film associations included. That the movie has garnered support from the two superstars – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — is a clear pointer that the whole industry is behind Vijay.

Kamal Haasan tweeted, “Mersal was certified. Don’t re-censor it. Counter-criticism with a logical response. Don’t silence critics. India will shine when it speaks.” Rajinikanth, too, followed suit with a brief tweet that read, “Important topic addressed... Well done!!! Congratulations team #Mersal”. It is old news that the BJP has been trying to woo the superstar for long, only to have been met with silence so far on his part. Other politicians like Rahul Gandhi and MK Stalin, too, pitched in with their support for Vijay. 

Political tactic

Many view the whole episode as a BJP tactic to gain political mileage in a state where it has no strong following. Vijay also made for an obvious and easy target since his previous films, too, have heavy political undertones. Actor-politician Khushbu feels that the BJP has given an unnecessary communal colour to the entire controversy.

In a matter-of-fact tone, she says, “Do you ever bother about the religion of a person at a blood bank? It is a clear attempt to not only garner political mileage but also to target Vijay, who has hinted at jumping into politics on several occasions. Personally, I found the contents of the movie good, fitting as a commercial entertainer for his legion of fans, and also makes a strong statement on issues such as demonetisation and GST.” 

She also adds that once the Censor board certifies a film, nobody has the right to rake up issues about it. The BJP would have done well to have their queries cleared by the CBFC. “It is the government that appoints the Censor board chief. It was not too long ago that they had to remove Pahlaj Nihalani from that post. A good government is one that takes criticism in its stride and works to correct its faults. This episode has exposed their (BJP’s) shortcomings.”  

Earlier, Mersal ran afoul of doctors’ associations who were critical of them being portrayed as exploiting the poor and as money-hungry. Some even went as far as using privacy privileges to counter the charges levelled against them and shared online links of the movie on social media.

Indian Medical Association president Dr T N Ravishankar was quoted as saying, “We decided not to approach the media or court for relief. We will only be giving more publicity to the movie. Instead, if we spread the movie links on web pages, it will hit their collections. I hope they will realise (their folly) then.” Tamilisai might be repenting for it!

In the past, movies like Virumaandi and Viswaroopam profited a great deal from political controversies. Mersal seems set to enjoy a similar experience. To use a cliché, the producers seem to be laughing all the way to the bank, with the movie running to packed houses.

(The writer is a senior journalist in Chennai)
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