Mersal: Vijay-starrer is a super hit at the box-office, but stirs up hornet's nest in politics
Vijay's Mersal, directed by Atlee, offers criticism of GST and the Digital India initiative
Vijay’s Atlee-directed Mersal had stirred a huge controversy before its release, when it did not get an NOC from the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). Finally, at the last minute the AWBI gave the NOC, but the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) took more time and finally issued a censor certificate a few hours before the film’s release on Diwali day. In recent times, no film in India has been cleared a day before its theatrical release!
Mersal had a gargantuan day one opening worldwide, and is reported to have earned Rs 22.5 crore from Tamil Nadu theatres alone. The Hindu quotes Tiruppur Subramaniam, a leading distributor and exhibitor in Tamil Nadu as saying, “Yes, the first day collection of Mersal is somewhere between Rs 22 -24 Crore in Tamil Nadu alone. Clearly it has surpassed the opening of Rajinikanth’s Kabali and Vijay’s earlier film Theri.”
The critics may not have liked the film as it is said to be a mish-mash of earlier hits like Kamal Haasan’s Apoorva Sagodharagal. However Atlee’s packaging and Vijay’s triple role as father and sons, as well as his charisma have helped it to do extraordinary business, especially in Tier 2 towns and rural areas. One of the highlights of the film is Vijay’s direct dig at the way the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as 'Digital India' initiatives have been implemented in the country.
One of the characters in the film says that GST in Singapore is just 7 percent and medical treatment is free, while in India it is an all time high — 28 percent — and corporate hospitals continue to milk poor patients. The dialogues compare India with Singapore, which also implemented GST, but in a humane manner. The character goes on to say public health in India has failed, and asks if our ‘leaders’ will be treated in government hospitals when they fall sick. Please note one of the writers of the film is Vijendra Prasad, SS Rajamouli’s father and the writer of both installment of Baahubali, who is said to be close to the BJP.
In another scene, hero Vijay and his side kick comedian Vadivelu’s characters are in Paris when someone tries to rob them. Vadivelu in his inimitable style opens his wallet and tells the thief that it’s empty, thanks to Digital India.
The punch lines, delivered by a superstar like Vijay in an emotional manner, are being lapped up by film crazy audiences in the state. These scenes have received the most response as the audience cheered and clapped, as GST is a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu. Notably, GST has been opposed by Jayalaithaa when she was alive and was the chief minister, but subsequently after her death, the new AIADMK regime caved in and agreed in toto with the central government. According to political observers, Vijay, who is nursing political ambitions understands that the best medium to reach across to the electorate is cinema. In another scene in the film, he is equated with none other than the legendary actor and politician MGR.
Tamil Nadu BJP president Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan has demanded the deletion of anti-GST dialogues from Mersal. Tamilsai said, “People who saw the film were offended by the incorrect statements on GST and digital payments, which are policy decisions taken by the Union government, after lot of study. Celebrities like Vijay should not be making incorrect statements passing judgement on it. That will lead to people misinterpreting the whole exercise (sic)."
BJP’s TN Youth Wing leader SG Suryah posted tweets countering Mersal's claims on GST in Singapore. It seems only the BJP's state leadership in Tamil Nadu is interested in deleting scenes from the film; the national leadership is yet to make an official comment. The ruling AIADMK government in the state is keeping a studious silence, as they do not want to rub Vijay fans the wrong way at a time when local body elections are near. Vijay himself had met chief minister E Palaniswami at his residence and last Sunday, and they seem to have hit it off.
Meanwhile, the latest we hear is that doctors in Tamil Nadu want to boycott the film for “its bad portrayal of the medical field especially doctors who are portrayed as main villain and stooping to even murder for making money.” The doctors' association will not watch the film in theatres; instead, they will only watch pirated versions!
Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan of the BJP said, “The film producer should remove the untruths regarding GST from the film. He has assured me the offending scenes on GST and Digital India will be removed from the film.” But there is no official word from Sri Thenandal Films and Murali Ramasamy, the producers of Mersal. Murali himself is very influential; his father, the late Ramanarayanan, was a director, producer and former DMK MLA.
Vijay's father SA Chandrasekhar — veteran director, producer and actor — said in an interview to a Tamil channel, “Mersal has been cleared by the CBFC . There are BJP-nominated members who could have protested at that time but why didn't they ask for those dialogues to be removed then? Why does the BJP have a problem now? I'm not talking as Vijay's father but as a person who knows the rules and regulations regarding CBFC. A section within BJP too had raised its voice against demonetisation and GST. So why target Vijay now?”
Kamal Haasan, too, came out in support of the film, and asked that the film should not be re-censored.
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
The buzz in trade circles is that even if the scenes pointed out by BJP are to be cut, it will take days, as it has to be re-censored. Till then, the controversies will help Mersal to gross between Rs 65 to 70 crores in Tamil Nadu during the five day-long Diwali weekend and make it a mega blockbuster!
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