THE BJP in Tamil Nadu is up in arms over what it claims is “false criticism” of the central government’s flagship initiatives, Digital India and GST, in ‘Mersal’, the latest movie starring Tamil superstar Vijay. On Friday, Tamil Nadu BJP leader H Raja, who is also a national secretary of the party, attributed communal motives to the movie’s dialogues in a tweet that referred to the lead actor’s rarely used Christian name while criticising “Joseph Vijay’s hate campaign against (Prime Minister) Modi”.
”Everyone has the right to criticise the BJP government on any medium. But the criticism should be based on facts,” Raja told The Indian Express. The BJP leader claimed that he was “trying to confirm” whether the producer Hema Rukmani of Thenandal Studios Ltd “may also be a Christian”.
In the film, which has been running to packed theatres in the state since its Diwali release Wednesday, popular comic actor Vadivelu opens his wallet to show a thief in Singapore and thanks “Digital India” for it being empty.
In another segment, Vijay remarks during a press conference on screen that Singapore gives free medical treatment while charging only 7% GST while people in India are charged 28% GST but still don’t get this facility.
Vijay’s dialogues also include a suggestion that what needs to be built are hospitals, not temples, with a mention of children dying in government hospitals due to lack of oxygen cylinders — this is being seen as a reference to the deaths of 70 children in August in a government hospital at Gorakhpur in BJP-ruled UP.
”I asked many of my friends in Singapore about Vijay’s claims in the movie. They all said that there is a medical premium imposed on people, and that medical treatment is not free. Also, getting medical facilities is very difficult for Singapore’s people. So, it is a lie that they are trying to spread through the movie,” Raja claimed.
Referring to a series of tweets from his official handle Friday, Raja also demanded a clarification on Vijay’s alleged “tax evasion”.
Asked why he had referred to Vijay’s Christian name, Raja said the actor was a practicing Christian, which is reflected in his “hate campaign”. “Vijay dared to say that we should build hospitals instead of temples, will he say the same about churches, too? Why are only temples being referred to? In the last 20 years, some 17,500 churches and some 9,700 mosques were built in Tamil Nadu compared to just 370 temples built during the same period,” alleged Raja.
”His remark about temples had a communal tone, so I responded in the same manner. This is a systematic anti-Modi campaign based on lies. We are happy to face criticism. I hear the plight of small traders affected by GST, and we are taking all steps to resolve their hardship due to procedural problems,” Raja said.
Directed by Atlee, Mersal was first slammed by BJP state president Tamilisai Sounderarajan. “When you make films, you do not follow rules but you criticise the government and the tax regime. They (actors) can’t fix the price of their movie tickets honestly. They can’t reveal the salaries they get paid. Or, they don’t pay taxes correctly. But they criticise PM Modi who faces no corruption charges and works 24 hours a day for people’s welfare,” she said.
Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan joined the chorus by claiming that “many dialogues in the movie were against facts and truths” and that “steps should be taken to remove those portions”.
Another senior BJP leader L Ganeshan said that “it has become a style these days to criticise and attack the Centre”. He said that this will make “those who have trust in the government and nationalists” angry.
The remarks by BJP leaders appear to have rattled the fimmakers, with sources indicating that the “controversial scenes” may be removed.
”Controversial scenes criticising GST, Digital India and temples may be removed if there are further threats like Income-Tax raids. Such events will derail the entire movie industry and many ongoing projects. We do not want anything to affect the industry,” sources said.
Reacting to the controversy, Pa Ranjith, director of Rajinikanth’s latest superhit movie Kabali said that what is portrayed in the movie is reality. “When all those controversial dialogues are being accepted in the theatre with huge applause, it means the movie has succeeded in voicing the sentiments of the people. Why should they be removed?” Ranjith said.
The filmmakers also received support from the Congress, with the party’s Tamil Nadu chief S Thirunavukkarasar saying that the BJP should run newsreels promoting the Centre in theatres instead of asking filmmakers to generate publicity for them. “It is cinema. Let the BJP leaders run newsreels for the Centre, we cannot make a movie like a newsreel. Trying to influence a movie and its content is complete anarchy,” he said.