Superstar vs super-censor: BJP wants ‘Christian’ Vijay to delete anti-Modi dialogues from Mersal
Popular Tamil actor Vijay’s latest film Mersal has invited the wrath of Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP because it has critical references to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet policies like demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax and Digital India.
“How dare Vijay criticise Modi?” asks BJP’s state unit president Tamilisai Sundrarajan. He feels emboldened to criticise the Centre because he nurses political ambitions, she alleged.
She and other BJP leaders from the state like Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan and national secretary of the party H Raja have demanded that scenes critical of the Centre should be deleted.
Making common cause with Vijay, actor Kamal Haasan has said the film has already been certified by the censor board and there should be no “super-censorship”. In a series of tweets, he has asked Vijay and the producer of Mersal not to succumb to pressure from the saffron brigade. He has said the BJP leaders should counter criticism with logic instead of stifling dissent.
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
It is a different matter that Kamal himself agreed to cuts in his controversial film Viswaroopam after Muslim groups took exception to their portrayal as terrorists.
Kamal has also said that India will really shine only if it speaks. And the people have already begun to speak – the critical dialogues are going viral on WhatsApp.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi also came out in support of Vijay and Mersal and slammed the BJP for trying to censor films.
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
Regional officer of the censor board A Mathialagan has said the producer cannot make any cuts on his own without the permission of the board and so far he has not made any such request.
Meanwhile, Mersal has become a superhit at the box office. It collected Rs 43.50 crore on its very first day and is expected to cross the Rs 100 crore mark.
What is so offensive about these political dialogues? In the film, Vijay takes a dig at the Gorakhpur tragedy where children died because the hospital ran out of oxygen. The supplier stopped supply after the hospital failed to clear dues of over two years.
Vijay talks about patients who have died because of power failure while undergoing dialysis because the hospital has no power backup. A baby in incubator died after a rat bite in another government hospital, he claims. He reckons that government hospitals are kept in an abysmal condition to indirectly promote private hospitals.
He also says GST at 28% has pushed up prices. There is no GST on liquor whereas it is 12% on drugs. He says Singapore has only seven per cent GST on medicine and it gives free medical care. “Why shouldn’t the government of India give medical care when it levies GST of 12 per cent on drugs?” he asks.
In the film, Vijay’s character is also said to have suggested that the priority should be on building hospitals, not temples.
Also, comic actor Vadivelu showed his empty wallet to a thief in Singapore and thanked Digital India for it being empty.
Neither Tamilisai Sundararajan nor Pon Radhakrishnan has cared to substantiate their opposition to the film’s dialogues.
Only BJP national general secretary of the party H Raja pointed out it is not true that Singapore gives free medical care.
However, Raja took the anti-Vijay campaign to an absurd level by attributing communal motives to the star. He termed the dialogues as being part of “Joseph Vijay’s hate campaign against Modi” insinuating that the star’s criticism of Modi’s policies stemmed from the fact that he is a Christian.
Speaking to Indian Express, Raja said that he was trying to confirm if the film’s producer Hema Rukmani of Thenandal Studios, is also a Christian.
Vijay’s father and producer-director Chandrashekharan pointed out that the film merely reiterates criticism that is already in the public domain, some of it by BJP leaders themselves.
Earlier this week, Kamal Haasan had written an article apologising for supporting Modi’s demonetisation policy and urged the PM to do the same.
BJP leaders are afraid that criticism by a popular star like Vijay, that too in a film, would be far more damaging than the comments of figures such as former finance minister Yashwant Sinha and former disinvestment minister Arun Shourie. They feel that criticising Modi and his policies is becoming fashionable and mainstream, which can irreparably hurt the party.
Though various pro-BJP groups have shown increasing intolerance of dissent in the last three years, it is the first time that the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP has done so. In targeting Mersal, which has only passing reference to Centre’s policies, the BJP has shown its mindset that Modi is king and he can do no wrong.