Mersal- the big Diwali release of Tamil Nadu starring Joseph Vijay and directed by Altee created a tsunami at the Box Office worldwide. Despite a weekday release, on October 18, the movie raked in Rs 34.50 crore on the first day. Fans of Thalapathy Vijay flocked in hundreds to watch the star preach the essential lesson that good trumps evil. A perfect entertainer, the triple role of Vijay as an honest doctor and his twin sons, set the perfect mood for the festival of lights. But, not everyone was impressed- especially the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
What is the Mersal controversy about?
The ruling party at the Centre and its followers in the southern state are up against the movie because it criticises certain economic decisions taken by the Narendra Modi-led government – demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST). In one of the scenes set in Paris, a thief tries to rob Vijay and his sidekick, when the latter cracks a joke about not having cash due to demonetisation.
However, the one scene which has really irked BJP is Vijay’s explanation of GST. Addressing a crowd comprising of people with wet eyes and media professionals, Dr. Maaran (Vijay) points out lapses in implementation of GST. Talking about how Singapore, a relatively small country, introduced GST, Dr. Maaran asked why the government failed to provide medical healthcare despite collecting 28% GST. He also pointed out that people paid 12% GST on medicines and nothing on alcohol. In what is clearly a jibe at the Gorakhpur Medical College tragedy, Dr. Maaran said children died because the government didn’t pay its dues to the oxygen cylinder supplier (In August this year, approximately 60 children died due to shortage of oxygen supply.)
Reportedly, the claps and whistles did not stop after Vijay delivered these dialogues in his typical style.
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Why is BJP going all against the movie?
Obviously, Vijay’s taking up the issues of GST and demonetisation rubbed the ruling party in the wrong manner. They claim the facts shown in the movie about GST are incorrect. Tamil Nadu’s BJP spokesperson, Dr. Tamilisai Soundararajan said;
People who saw the film were offended by the incorrect statements on GST and digital payments, which are policy decisions taken by the Union government, after lot of study. Celebrities like Vijay should not be making incorrect statements passing judgement on it. That will lead to people misinterpreting the whole exercise.
Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan said:
The film producer should remove the untruths regarding GST from the film. He has assured me the offending scenes on GST and Digital India will be removed from the film.
The demand to delete scenes has stirred a debate about the kind of censorship we want in the country. Vijay’s father SA Chandrasekhar, a renowned filmmaker asked why the scenes should be cut after the movie passed the censor board’s test. He said:
Mersal has been cleared by the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) . There are BJP-nominated members who could have protested at that time but why didn’t they ask for those dialogues to be removed then? Why does the BJP have a problem now? I’m not talking as Vijay’s father but as a person who knows the rules and regulations regarding CBFC. A section within BJP too had raised its voice against demonetisation and GST. So why target Vijay now?
But, the BJP seems in no mood to let the matter rest. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao talking about the Mersal controversy during a panel discussion with a news channel said:
In any case, most of our film stars have very low IQ, very low general knowledge.
To this, Farhan Akhtar tweeted he shouldn’t have dared to speak in such a demeaning way about the film fraternity. He tweeted:
How dare you, sir?? @GVLNRAO
And to all film people in his ranks.. here’s what he thinks of you. #shame https://t.co/6C8v6hZa23
— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) October 22, 2017
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BJP leader H Raja brought in a communal angle to the whole controversy by claiming that Vijay rarely used his full Christain name i.e Joseph Vijay and that the film was part of a ‘hate campaign’ against PM.
Truth is bitter pic.twitter.com/woFdxOntRn
— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) October 22, 2017
Who else is offended?
Apart from BJP, The Tamil Nadu Government Doctors’ Association called the portrayal of doctors in bad taste. In a press release, president K. Senthil urged doctors to ignore such movies and concentrate on treating patients. He also asked people living in rural areas to separate fact from fiction, citing it is unlikely a man can fight with 20 people and remain unharmed, as shown in movies.
Who’s supporting Mersal?
Apparently a lot of people! The first celebrity to come out in support of the movie was Kamal Hassan. He tweeted:
Mersal was certified. Dont re-censor it . Counter criticism with logical response. Dont silence critics. India will shine when it speaks.
— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) October 20, 2017
Rajinikanth also lauded the makers for taking up an important topic. His tweet read:
Important topic addressed… Well done !!! Congratulations team #Mersal
— Rajinikanth (@superstarrajini) October 22, 2017
Rahul Gandhi too did not shy away from using this opportunity to take a dig at BJP and tweeted:
Mr. Modi, Cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don’t try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) October 21, 2017
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Apart from the big guns, Vijay also enjoys enormous support from his fans. The entire row has only contributed to a surge in ticket demands. Since Jayalalitha opposed GST, it is obvious why the scene in which Vijay criticised the bill was met with claps and whistles in the theatres. After Jayalalitha’s demise, the state has been in a political turmoil and the influence Kollywood stars have on masses cannot be denied. There are also reports in media that Vijay has political ambitions.
Some recent controversies on censorship and curbing freedom of expression of the film industry.
- Fringe group Karni Sena attacking Padmavati sets and manhandling Sanjay Leela Bhansali, because they ‘thought’ the movie showed a romantic sequence between Rani Padmini and Alauddin Khilji.
- Pahlaj Nihalani demanding over 80 cuts in Udta Punjab, because it showed how drugs have gripped the state of Punjab which was back then ruled by Akali Dal-BJP.
- Muting a scene in Anushka Sharma’s Phillauri in which a character is shown reciting Hanuman Chalisa because it would ‘hurt religious sentiments’.
- BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiva saying true ‘nationalists’ would watch Kaabil over Raees because the latter movie featured Pakistani actress Mahira Khan.
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