There are very few things that can make fans of Ajith and Vijay come together on the same page. Except probably, insisting on calling the latter Joseph Vijay. And, presuming his film Mersal has anti-GST and anti-demonetisation dialogues because he belongs to another faith.
Not just fans. Actors, known to belong to different camps, all came together to support a movie that would have otherwise just done well at the box office, and later on television too. Now, many people across the country, irrespective of the language divide, want to watch the movie. Just to hear how the makers, while taking cinematic license when it comes to fact, have torn into two very unpopular policies. And so, the film is now blazing its way to box office glory, with analysts speaking of how it has garnered business worth Rs. 150 crore in about six days.
While, in the past, actors and creators who’ve faced flak for their themes have had to fight it out alone or with a close bunch of friends and well-wishers, this time around, the entire industry has come out in support of the movie, and Vijay. To think, that just a few months ago, the actor and his fans were trolled for not calling out the online abuse of a journalist.
Just goes on to show that in Tamil Nadu, public memory is short. But, more importantly, that in present-day Tamil Nadu, when someone’s patriotism is questioned, everyone rises as one.
Cut back to a few years ago, from when Kamal Haasan has been hounded during almost every release of his. He fought mostly alone. This time around, even Rajinikanth and Kamal tweeted in support of Mersal. If anyone can harbor any resentment at how the industry stands as one now, he could. The hurt that Virumandi/Sandiyar, Vishwaroopam, and even Big Boss caused must still be fresh.
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
Important topic addressed… Well done !!! Congratulations team #Mersal
— Rajinikanth (@superstarrajini) October 22, 2017
Be it the Jallikattu agitation of January this year or the NEET controversy and Anitha’s suicide, Tamil pride has taken centrestage, and that’s what has helped Mersal too. People and celebrities see the criticism and interference in the censoring process as hitting below the belt, and questioning their identity. In fact, Ruben, who edited the film, tweeted that the film already had an editor — him — and did not need to be re-edited, as demanded, to remove the “offending” portions. The tweet has now been deleted.
Part of the reason why everyone, barring a few actors who choose to remain quiet, is so vocal in their criticism is that Tamil Nadu has largely been unaffected by any attempts to saffronise it. For a state and people who proudly claim to be leaders in regional/federal autonomy, and where religious clashes are not very common, using faith to cast aspersions on someone’s patriotism may have rankled. After all, the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu was propelled to fight the divisive trappings of the caste system and instill Tamil pride. BJP leader H Raja’s communally coloured tweet that said: “Bitter Truth” and his accusing ‘Thalapathy’ of having an anti-Hindu agenda was an opportunity that came almost gift wrapped — a North Indian party trying to silence the Tamil voice. As an aside, it also showed that electoral identity cards could be easily brought into the public gaze, just to prove someone’s complete name.
Truth is bitter pic.twitter.com/woFdxOntRn
— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) October 22, 2017
A probable reason why Kamal did not ever experience this kind of support is because the political groups that attacked his films were ‘home grown’ ones that espoused the Tamil or regional cause. Here, a national party was attacking a much-loved star. We all love to support the underdog.
Raja precipitated matters further by admitting he watched portions of the film online. That led to Vishal, president of the Nadigar Sangam, asking him how he could support piracy. Now, The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce has written to the Prime Minister and I&B Minister Smriti Irani that Raja must be punished under the Tamil Nadu Video Piracy Act.
Rumours were rife on Monday morning that Vishal’s office was being raided because he spoke the way he did. But, the Directorate General of Goods and Services Tax Intelligence (DGGSTI) says there was no such raid. Later, Vishal confirmed the same.
Till about three-four months ago, when it was conclusively established the repercussions of demonetisation, and that GST has affected a reasonable number of people, films stayed clear of political references. But now, the controversy has seen the birth of the hashtag #MersalvsModi. A movie versus a Prime Minister. Ironically, though the first call against the film came from state BJP Chief Tamilisai Soundararajan, the anger is no longer directed at the state unit, but the Centre.
No one knows where the controversy is headed. But, the movie, we all know, is heading for blockbuster status. Aided by the most unlikely of publicity agents!