Shortly after the Vanniyar Sangam sent a legal notice to the makers of Suriya-starrer Jai Bhim seeking Rs 5 crore compensation for allegedly showing the community in a poor light, several noted film personalities, including filmmaker Vetri Maaran and actor Siddharth, have come out in support of the actor using the hashtag #WeStandWithSuriya on social media.
Produced by Suriya under the 2D Entertainment banner and inspired by a real case from the 90s fought by Justice Chandru at the Madras High Court, Jai Bhim, which features the actor as a lawyer who fights for justice for people from the Irular tribal community, was released on Amazon Prime Video on November 2. While the film, which deals with topics such as caste inequality and police brutality, has been widely appreciated, it has offended the Vanniyar community.
Before the legal notice was sent by the Vanniyar Sangam, Anbumani Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a political outfit that represents the Vanniyars, released a lengthy statement questioning why the film portrays the community in a bad light.
The Mayiladuthurai district secretary of PMK, Sitthamalli A Palanisamy, meanwhile, announced a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh for anyone who will assault the actor when he visits the district. The group also stopped screenings of another Suriya-starrer, the 2007 film Vel, in a theatre in Mayiladuthurai.
Following this, many prominent film personalities and the public have expressed their solidarity with Suriya on social media.
Filmmaker Vetri Maaran, who is set to direct Suriya in Vaadi Vaasal, put out a statement saying, “The commitment of director TJ Gnanavel to make this film to let the world know the plight of the victims and Suriya’s constant efforts towards social justice, on and off-screen, is truly inspiring.”
“It’s only natural these films cause angst amongst those who don’t want the status quo to change. #WeStandWithSuriya. Films that question the inequalities and injustices of a society too are weapons towards social justice,” he added.
Actor Siddharth, who has shared screen space with Suriya in Aaytha Ezhuthu (2004), wrote, “We stood with Kamal Haasan. We stood with Vijay. We stand with Suriya. ‘We’ represents anyone who believes it is cowardice to threaten an artist or the exhibition of artistic creation over differences of opinion or personal animosity. I stand with the makers of Jai Bhim.”
Calling Jai Bhim an “important film,” filmmaker Rajiv Menon said it shows “how justice is delivered within the constitutional framework to the marginalised and gives hope to one and all.” He also added while critiquing the film is fine, demanding a ban and issuing death threats is condemnable.
Actor Sathyaraj, in a video, said, “Many respected people, including Chief Minister MK Stalin, have appreciated the film. In my opinion, some films will be entertaining, others can be appreciated, while a few, a very few, will be applauded and celebrated. Jai Bhim is an important film in this last category. I appreciate the whole team of Jai Bhim. I am elated that the artistic community is supporting Suriya and voicing out for him.”
In response to the outpouring of support, Suriya took to Twitter on Wednesday and said, “Dear all, this love for Jai Bhim is overwhelming. I’ve never witnessed this before! Can’t express in words how thankful I am for the trust & reassurance you all have given us. Heartfelt thanks for standing by us.”
Meanwhile, an opposing section of social media users began trending the hashtags #WeStandWithSanthanam and #SuriyaAgainstVanniyars, after comedian-actor Santhanam commented on the controversy during a press meet for his upcoming film Sabhaapathy on Tuesday.
When asked for his view on the issue, Santhanam, who is considered an ally of the PMK party, said is not right to portray one group of people in a poor light in order to glorify others. However, he did so without taking the names of Suriya, Vanniyars or the PMK.