In a state where the line between cinema and politics has always been blurred, Tamil romantic hero Vijay has been no exception as far as political controversy is concerned. It has, however, usually been his father who has spoken on his behalf. Vijay’s own voice has rarely been heard, which is why many in the state have remain unconvinced by indications and allegations, over the years, that he might enter politics.
Vijay’s latest film, Mersal, has come under attack from the BJP over dialogues and scenes criticising the GST policy and highlighting children’s death in a Gorakhpur hospital. BJP national secretary H Raja has attributed communal motives to the film and was the first to draw attention to Vijay’s rarely used Christian surname, Joseph. BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan, for her part, has alleged that the film’s dialogues show “political motives” against the NDA government at the Centre.
While Vijay, 43, has been silent as ever, his father S A Chandrasekhar, a producer and writer, has hit back. “Politicians are so insecure these days; they no longer have magnanimity, and they lack basic wisdom,” Chandrasekhar told The Indian Express.
“My son’s name is C Joseph Vijay. In his school certificates, I left his caste and religion columns blank. Even if he is a practising Christian, why does that matter to a national leader?” Chandrasekhar said.
“Vijay is an actor, an artist. Our medium is cinema; we are not fighters or activists but we speak through our medium,” he added. “When many politicians are guilty of rape and corruption, the same realities may be reflected in cinema plots too. Why should that be a threat to anyone?” He felt that had Parasakthi (1952), a critique of the Brahminic system, been made today, “it would not have been released in our country.”
Throughout his career, Vijay has grown under the shadow of his father, whose name has been associated with veterans such as M Karunanidhi for decades. Vijay’s hero image has always been limited to the screen.
“There is no other superstar with a father like Chandrasekhar to guide and mentor him at every stage, in every statement,” said a leading actor who is close to the family. The actor said Vijay has always been shy and added, “No political plans for Vijay, at least for the next 10 years.”
Veteran film historian S Theodore Baskaran feels the BJP is showing ignorance. “Vijay had never shown signs of becoming a politician; all we saw was a father putting pressure on his son,” Baskaran said. “M G Ramachandran had a party with an ideology for entering politics, both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have at least certain positions and stand on issues. If BJP leaders have overestimated Vijay’s charisma and feared that some dialogues penned by a scriptwriter were against them, the victim in this entire issue would be the film industry.”
What has fed rumours and allegations of Vijay having political ambitions is his strong fan base. Having lost his younger sister when she was three yeas old, Vijay carries out most of his philanthropic activities in her name, mostly on his birthday every year. Besides, because of his father’s close links with Karunanidhi, Vijay was for long seen as being a supporter of the DMK and the Dravidian ideology.
That changed with the release of Sura – The Leader (2010), with the words “The Leader” reportedly upsetting certain DMK leaders who didn’t want to see anyone other than Karunanidhi depicted that way. When the film’s release was held up during the DMK regime, Vijay’s father met J Jayalalithaa, leading to some of the actor’s fans setting his posters on fire.
Vijay’s father made statements on behalf of the AIADMK ahead of the 2011 polls. The bond did not last. In 2013, another movie caused offence: Thalaivaa (The Leader), with tagline “Time to Lead”. Multiple threats “from unidentified people”, according to Vijay, delayed the release in Tamil Nadu, although it was released in other states.
In 2009, Vijay did give a hint of joining politics when he said his fan associations and charity works in his late sister’s name were being taken to the next level — by forming a Makkal Iyakkam (people’s movement). This was after he had met Rahul Gandhi, followed by the victory of UPA II. Vijay met Rahul along with his father, and praised Rahul for the victory. In 2011, however, he was seen visiting Anna Hazare at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, the movement that led to the UPA’s downfall.
In 2013, during a TV interview, he said he prefers to remain an entertainer. “I am not with any political party. I laugh at media reports of my entering politics. I spoke to a couple of news editors to prevent such reports,” Vijay said.
The rumours started to resume, briefly, after his meeting with BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Coimbatore in April 2014. But this time, Vijay was cautious about nipping the speculation in the bud. After his meeting, he said it was a courtesy meet as he had been invited by Modi, without any political agenda.
Described as shy, the actor has also caused occasional surprise with moves that have gone against the description. In January this year, he visited over 20,000 Jallikattu protesters at the peak of a movement at Marina Beach. With a towel tied around his face to avoid public attention, he sat with thousands of protesters in the early hours on the beach.
Recently, he also visited the house of Anitha, the 18-year-old student who had committed suicide in rural Tamil Nadu after failing to clear NEET, the medical entrance.