Mersal was always going to get a lot of publicity. It’s a Vijay film released for Deepavali. It has a huge star cast, and Vijay – who has grown to superstardom – plays three characters in the film. Publicity was never going to be a problem for the film.
What the producers, director, star, and the fans and audience wouldn’t have expected, and are drinking it all in and thanking their stars, is the additional publicity from the Tamil Nadu state unit of the BJP. Tamilisai Sunderrajan claimed that scenes in the film criticised BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and demanded the producers cut the scenes from the film. The scenes that they wanted to cut were oblique references, without mentioning names or political parties or leaders, was about GST and demonetisation.
The producers – Thenandal Films – haven’t confirmed yet if they will indeed cut the scenes owing to pressure. The indecision is helping them. Support began pouring in from everybody, with filmmakers, fans (and even rival Ajith’s fans), politicians not from the BJP, all adding to the debate over the cuts.
A hashtag on twitter, #MersalvsModi has gone viral and is bringing together everybody against the BJP, and in support of Vijay and Mersal.
— History of India (@RealHistoryPic) October 20, 2017
Dear Mr. Modi,
Is your govt so weak so as to be scared of small things, such as an article and few dialogues from a movie? #MersalVsModi
— Arnav Das Sharma (@arnav_d) October 21, 2017
Fascinating this #MersalVsModi trend is. Looks like bhakts are getting a taste of their own medicine from Vijay fans.
— Kartik Dayanand (@KartikDayanand) October 20, 2017
— syedasif (@syedasi51614916) October 21, 2017
The Mersal row has once again brought up public debate on free speech and cinema’s ability to make fun of politics. Often, artists are attacked for giving voice to public sentiment. Today, it is Vijay. Tomorrow, it will be another target. With each attack, the party in power and the government establishes a new “high water” mark of what is acceptable and what is not. Criticism, dissent, and free speech will be replaced with blind obedience, and sycophancy.
But in the meanwhile, Mersal fans and Vijay can take comfort in the fact that all this additional publicity is helping keep the cash registers at the box office ticking. The Indian Express reported that the film had earned about 35 crores in India, and about 45 crores internationally, on its opening day. India Today is now reporting that the film will probably hit and cross the 100 crore mark this weekend, in domestic ticket sales. Even North Indians, and Ajith fans, are going in to see the film. Deepavali blockbuster indeed, courtesy a late-bursting firecracker from BJP.