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It’s Mersal time in Tamil Nadu & fans are ignoring the BJP

The BJP is trying hard to make inroads in Tamil Nadu. This is the land where the magic of movies, the fandom of superstars, and the political charisma of politicians coalesce into an inimitable mix.

Written by Sudha G Tilak | Updated: October 23, 2017 7:48 am
Mersal, Vijay, Vijay movie, BJP, BJP Mersal, Narendra Modi, Mersal controversy, Kamal Haasan, Indian Express Vijay plays both characters of twins in the movie, which is shot in the green Tamil countryside as well as in the posh vistas of Europe (File Photo)

First of all, the word in Chennai is ‘mersal’. While the Danes have their ‘hygge’ and the Japanese have their ‘ikigai’, the Tamils are happy saying “mersalayitten” to each other, or “I am pleasantly stunned”.

This Deepavali, though, the word came in for a mean twist. The much awaited release of Mersal with superstar Joseph Vijay was all set to be a festive entertainer. The potboiler is a family revenge drama that was perfectly in time with the seasonal good Vs evil losses. Vijay plays both characters of twins in the movie, which is shot in the green Tamil countryside as well as in the posh vistas of Europe, besides music from A R Rahman to up the fun quotient. But just like the best films in Tamil cinema, Mersal has a distinctive take on the current political and social problems in Tamil Nadu, including corruption, the government’s apathy to the poor as well as the ongoing problems with GST.

Vijay plays an honest doctor, Dr Maaran, who asks why the government, which collects 28 per cent GST cannot provide free healthcare for its poor while a small country like Singapore has done better with better health facilities for its public with lesser taxation. The hero also pointedly says the country needs more hospitals and not temples.

Another scene has the local comedian mock the long queues following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive which left people cashless.

Vijay fans were jubilant as they bathed his massive cut-outs in milk outside movie halls and roared each time he unleashed a particularly unbelievable move in the movie, or played macho, locking horns with bulls at the jallikattu scenes and showed off his mean dance moves.

However, not everyone was a fanboy. The BJP’s Tamil Nadu state unit president Tamilisai Sounderrajan has objected to Mersal and called for censorsing dialogues in the film that criticize or mock the BJP’s recent initiatives like demonetization and the GST.

The senior BJP leader in the state H Raja has reportedly said that Vijay is a Christian, meaning, he is thus open to criticizing a Hindu party like the BJP.

Now Vijay’s fan base is considerable, especially in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, and they often turn into a troll army on Twitter to take down anyone who calls out their star. In 2008 Vijay had unveiled a flag in blue and white for his fan party though he had insisted he was not founding a political party. This time too Vijay’s fans have trolled the BJP on Twitter with #mersalvsmodi hashtag mocking Modi and the BJP for raising objections about their beloved hero. Most of Kollywood’s stars, including Kamal Hassan, have come out in support of Vijay and supported the creative freedom to talk social issues and political matters in movies.

And why not? Tamil Nadu’s film history has enough instances of matinee idols like MG Ramachandran, who as chief minister used his films as propaganda for his party idels. Rajinikanth has in the past caricatured then chief minister J Jayalalithaa in movies that bordered on misogyny. There have been enough Tamil filmmakers who have made movies on vigilantism and criticised public institutions like hospitals or colleges and schools for not serving the public well. Tamil films have openly criticized religion and caste too.

For decades Tamil Nadu’s politics has been governed by two home-grown Dravidian parties and their towering leaders. In the last elections in 2016 the BJP, which joined a cobbled third group of political parties came third, after the AIADMK (44 per cent) and the DMK (23 per cent).

Even as Tamil Nadu has been dealing with political uncertainty following the death of its charismatic chief minister J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, the people have not been keen on the BJP. The party has come in for sharp criticism on the streets of Chennai and elsewhere as a “North Indian party.” Common people and talking heads in the media regularly accuse the central government of being insensitive to local calamities (the Chennai floods in November 2015) and displaying apathy to cultural traditions (like jallikattu, the traditional bull fighting tradition in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu) that led to the wellspring of protest on Chennai’s seafront in January this year when effigies of Prime Minister Modi were burnt.

The BJP is trying hard to make inroads in the state. This is the land where the magic of movies, the fandom of superstars, and the political charisma of politicians coalesce into an inimitable mix. In recent months the two aging superstars of Tamil Nadu, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth, have made public speeches indicating the possibility of their entry into politics and speculation is rife that history could well repeat itself in the state as yet another movie star turns politician.

The BJP, seen as a North Indian party with a swaggering saffron profile, has only shown by its inane objection to Mersal that the south, Tamil Nadu especially, is not an easy monolith to conquer, by either threat and bluster. Its own cultural heroes and brand of politics that are not immune to street fights and personality cults know only too well the art of political muscle flexing.

BJP leaders may object, but Mersal is right now getting a lot of publicity that shows its makers and hero in a righteous light in public. It has taken over prime time on regional TV shows right from the morning, where frames from the film rather than the BJP’s tirade, is being aired. Trade pundits say they are counting their monies saying the movie is the second highest grossing film of the year so far.

Thanks to the BJP, Vijay has certainly benefitted from the free publicity. In Tamil Nadu at least, its ‘mersal’ time for movie-makers, GST notwithstanding.

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  1. Josephine Kc
    Oct 26, 2017 at 11:10 am
    Thallappathy lovers
    1. Balasubramaniam Muthusamy
      Oct 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
      Dear Sudha G Tilak, why are you quoting Vijay as Joseph Vijay? Tamilnadu knows that he is a Christian. what purpose does it serve to call him by that name.. And when did BJP came as third in 2016 election? It came 6th after ADMK, DMK, Congress, PMK, DMDK - why this kolaveri? Pls do not twist and write your own tale : : thenewsminute /sites/default/files/vote 20share 20main.jpg
      1. P
        Parth Garg
        Oct 23, 2017 at 2:05 pm
        Truth shall prevail. Ever!
        1. A
          Oct 23, 2017 at 11:23 am
          This article is also promoting the actor and his move! Coming to 'more temples' it should have been more places of worship! to include churches and mosques also! So already the purpose of the film may be ulterior motive! Coming to the case of 28 GST - the system has just been started so the government is yet to get a space to benefit from it! again the motive of the movie is clear! As for the bias of Tamils against North, this was cultivated by the Dravadian parties to garner vote bank at the cost of National integration hopefully Tamils will become more broad-minded! and understand the political game plan of those forces behind.
          1. juz foo
            Oct 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm
            Didnt Mr. Modi himself say, more toilets should be built not temples? The "temple" here is just a reference to the religious worship center not just hindus'. Now every time we reference god, should we all say, allah, jesus, guru (whoever every religion thinks godly of?). this is getting ridiculous!
            1. A
              Oct 23, 2017 at 4:02 pm
              Christians in Tamil Nadu also refer to churches as "koils". Only few refer to them as "devalayam" in pure Tamil. Know something about Tamil Nadu before ranting like a !!!
              1. G
                Oct 23, 2017 at 6:09 pm
                dude, are you serious. what if he refers so? people who watch movies are not morons and I'm quite sure they know to distinguish between reality and fiction. If you can't, you should take your parents along. The movie is rated U/A for people like you.
                1. S
                  Oct 23, 2017 at 8:08 pm
                  We tamilians have achieved better standard of living in all aspect compare to caste and religion based dirty politics in Northern India. We will never let our state to control by any north indian dirty politians. Tamil nadu will be ruled only by the Tamilian elected by people of Tamil nadu and he will only answer to our people not any BOSS in North. (Congress/BJP).
                  1. J
                    Oct 23, 2017 at 9:54 pm
                    Dear Aravind, Your note sprays sarcasm, on dravidian parties, Go Read and refresh your History. National Integration started when.... Dravidian Culture Existed since when...... And On - Dravidians have to be broad minded. - It is because of our broad minded nature that we agreed to succumb to the national integration. OR you could diverge it as that - Aryan Culture dominated the poor Dravidians. So who is not broad minded now ?
                  2. N
                    Oct 23, 2017 at 11:11 am
                    North will take over entire country..wait and watch. Hindi will be only dominant language.
                    1. D
                      Oct 23, 2017 at 12:16 pm
                      The greatness of a language is determined by the degree of abuses in that language.. look at your BC, MC etc.. we dont have such abuses in DRAVIDA..
                      1. S
                        Oct 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm
                        u just wait and watch....my friend...Pakistan and China will capture entire north India and India will be broken into pieces by them soon....entire north India will face Chinese aggression along with pakistan...i will enjoy when they rape ur Hindi mother, daughters and all females.......Tamilnadu, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, entire northeast Indian states, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh will become an independent countries...Hindi is the most useless language in india....the poorest states in India are the people of Hindi speaking population...and I hope u are among them as well...if u want develop then come out from that useless language and learn most productive language....if u try to impose Hindi then all Hindi population in south India will be burnt to death...mind it...I THINK INDIA WILL NOT CELEBRATE ITS 100TH BIRTHDAY...THANKS TO HINDI USELESS PEOPLE
                        1. J
                          Oct 23, 2017 at 9:57 pm
                          Friend . You are aggressive. But to the point. You speak my soothsayer's dream Ha..... Ha..
                        2. M
                          Oct 23, 2017 at 1:57 pm
                          For sure, it will be at least resisted by Tamils, Malayalis, Kannadingas, Telugus, Punjabis, Bengalis, North East states, if not others.
                          1. G
                            Oct 23, 2017 at 6:12 pm
                            May be. But only a dominant one. Not a GREAT one. You have to havve class for that.
                            1. A
                              Oct 24, 2017 at 10:44 am
                              Tell your boss RSS and MODI SHAH , if India without 4 south India states calculate GDP . It is not about south or north its about respecting human beings not on religion base and caste that what BJP does any where Modi and BJP go and Shah makes riots where ever he goes but not in TAMil nadu
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