Blocked in Tamil Nadu,a film by an actor who would be politician

Thalaiva,or “leader”,a film by Vijay,was ready for release last Friday

Written by Gopu Mohan | Chennai | Published: August 14, 2013 3:04 am

The fate of a widely awaited Tamil film by a very popular young actor hangs in the balance,apparently because it has political undertones in line with the actor’s ambitions.

Thalaiva,or “leader”,a film by Vijay,was ready for release last Friday. Nearly 500 theatres had been booked in Tamil Nadu,neighbouring states where Vijay has a fan following,as well as overseas. Days before the scheduled release,it came up against a threat from a students’ group to the distributor,besides a court petition alleging the film wrongly portrays the petitioner’s father and grandfather. The release in Tamil Nadu was stalled.

After the threat letter,theatre owners approached the police for protection. The department said it couldn’t provide that as all its forces would be occupied during Eid and Independence Day. This led to speculation that the ruling party was not happy with the film. In fact,rumours about the police playing a role in enforcing an unofficial ban were so strong that DGP K Ramanujam had to issue a statement of denial: “The police did not seek or advise deferring of the release of the film… The decision to release and the date of release are within the domain of the film industry.”

The commercial taxes department,meanwhile,has refused to exempt the film from entertainment tax. This has added to the impression that the government has been flexing its muscle against the actor and his father,producer-director S A Chandrasekaran,though industry sources point out the film doesn’t meet some of the conditions necesary for exemption.

On Friday,a desperate Vijay tried to meet Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa but was refused entry to Kodanadu Estate near Ooty where she was staying. A secretary came to the gate and advised him to seek an appointment rather than come unannounced. On Sunday,Vijay issued a statement eulogising Jayalalithaa and adding,“The leader who does good for all would also intervene and help release Thalaiva in the state,” he wrote.

With the film being released elsewhere,many enthusiastic Vijay fans have crossed state borders,one was so disappointed at failing to get a ticket that he hanged himself,and hundreds have taken to the Internet to criticise the authorities.

One theory is that the film has been held up because of lines ridiculing election sops — Jayalaithaa is known for these —but those who have watched it say there are no references to Tamil Nadu politics. Set in Mumbai,Thalaiva is about a young man following in the footsteps of his father to become the next generation don/hero running a parallel administration. Posters have Vijay in a white khadi shirt; the tagline reads “Time to lead”.

Beyond cinema

VIJAY’s moulders promote him as ‘Ilaya Thalapathi’ or junior commander,seemingly a claim at being second only to Rajnikanth,the Tamil superstar. But M K Stalin,heir-apparent in the DMK,is the original Thalapathi. And Vijay’s father has made no secret of the fact that he wants his son to be chief minister one day.

In 2009,Vijay had called on Rahul Gandhi and made plans to attend a public meeting with him in Coimbatore. The DMK was then in power and an ally of the Congress. There were allegedly warnings involving his acting future. Vijay skipped the meeting.

Before the 2011 polls,his father called on Jayalalithaa,then opposition leader,to pledge his support. Vijay himself was rarely heard in politics but Chandrasekar was considered to be speaking for him.

After Jayalalithaa assumed power,Chandrasekar was made president of the producers’ council,a powerful position in the industry. He was ousted in a no-confidence motion earlier this year.

“The tagline seems to have irked those in power because of the actor’s known ambition to enter politics. But not granting entertainment tax exemption seems reasonable; there are violence and dialogue in English,both against the set criteria,” said an experienced producer. An industry source said the producer was ready to forgo the exemption so that the film could be released this week.

The filmmakers have sought an appointment with Jayalalithaa,who returned from Kodanadu on Monday afternoon.

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