Embargo on movie releases, copyright and issues with the censor board — Mersal is the latest controversy’s child. But the controversies did not stop even after the film’s release on Deepavali (October 18). It took a political turn when the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP demanded cuts for the scenes pertaining to Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation. BJP’s national secretary H Raja raked up a new controversy accusing Vijay of having an anti-Hindu agenda.
Here’s a quick recap of the story far…
It all started with Tamilisai Soundararajan
State president of the Tamil Nadu BJP criticised Mersal and claimed that it shows GST and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative in poor light. “I haven’t seen the movie, but those who saw the movie claim that GST and Digital India have been portrayed in such a way to create wrong impression among people,” she said. Later, in an interview to Thanthi TV, she said, “The things that celebrities say influence popular perception. Criticising a government welfare scheme in a ‘passing comment’ is not acceptable and it will convey the wrong message. We demand removal of those scenes.”
“The film producer should remove the untruths regarding GST from the film,” Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan too joined in.
Opposition parties join in
This created an opportunity for the Opposition parties to launch an attack on the ruling party at the Centre. From Rahul Gandhi to MK Stalin, these political leaders tweeted in support of Mersal and espoused freedom of expression.
BJP’s attempt to muzzle criticism is contrary to democratic principles. The DMK always stands for freedom of speech & creative expression
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) October 21, 2017
BJP demands deletion of dialogues in ‘Mersal’. Imagine the consequences if ‘Parasakthi’ was released today.
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) October 21, 2017
Notice to film makers: Law is coming, you can only make documentaries praising government’s policies.
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) October 21, 2017
Mr. Modi, Cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don’t try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) October 21, 2017
— khushbusundar (@khushsundar) October 20, 2017
— Divya Spandana/Ramya (@divyaspandana) October 20, 2017
Given the army of Vijay’s fans on Twitter, #MersalvsModi started trending on social media. In a rare instance of solidarity, rival gang Ajith fans too tweeted in favour of Vijay. It soon became a national news. Even the non-Tamil speaking audience expressed their interest in watching the film.
— BIBIN JACOB (@bibinjacob001) October 24, 2017
— Mahalingam Ponnusamy (@mahajournalist) October 21, 2017
— Surendhar MK (@SurendharMK) October 21, 2017
This #MersalVsModi controversy is making me curious about the movie. Will watch even if I don’t speak Tamil.
JAI HO STREISAND MATA KI!
— Meghnad 👨🏫 📖 (@Memeghnad) October 21, 2017
— ranjith (@kranjith54) October 24, 2017
Scenes leaked online
While the battle on Twitter was at its peak, the scene featuring the dialogues on GST was leaked online. In the scene, Vijay’s character (Dr. Maaran) points out that a smaller State – Singapore – which charges only a uniform 7 percent GST on all products and services – provides better quality public health care than India, where 28 percent GST is the highest current rate.
Motormouth H Raja
H Raja then went on record to say that he watched the film online, implying that it was a pirated copy. He even attributed communal motives to the movie’s dialogues in a tweet that referred to the lead actor’s rarely used Christian name while criticising “Joseph Vijay’s hate campaign against (Prime Minister) Modi.”
Tamil Nadu Producers’ Council President Vishal soon released a statement condemning the politician’s blatant admission to piracy and said it’s “totally insensitive and uncalled for”.
H Raja, in an interview to The Indian Express, also claimed that “may be producer Hema Rukmani also a Christian.” “Everyone has the right to criticise the BJP government on any medium. But the criticism should be based on facts,” he was quoted as saying. In a new low, he even tweeted Vijay’s voter ID that had the name Joseph Vijay in it.
Truth is bitter pic.twitter.com/woFdxOntRn
— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) October 22, 2017
Industry joins to support Mersal
Kamal Haasan extended his support on Twitter:
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
Later on October 22, the actor saw the special screening of the film and posed for pictures with Atlee and Vijay. While Pa Ranjith said that there is no need to remove the scenes from the film, TFPC president Vishal said, “I see the demand for cuts in the film, and the pressure put on the producers, by leaders of the BJP, as a threat to freedom of expression.”
Rajinikanth, who is believed to have a pro-BJP stance, tweeted congratulating the Mersal team.
Important topic addressed… Well done !!! Congratulations team #Mersal
— Rajinikanth (@superstarrajini) October 22, 2017
‘Ready to remove controversial scenes’
In an official press statement, the producers of the film, said, “We would like to clarify that Mersal has no content against the government or anybody. We have discussed the issue with the BJP leaders including BJP’s Tamil Nadu president, Tamilisai Soundrajan. We explained our stand and also told them that this film has not been made to hurt anybody. They also accepted our explanations and we thank them for that. According to their view, their opposition is also fair. If certain opinions in the film conveys a wrong message, we are also ready to remove such scenes from the film.”
Doctors across Tamil Nadu protested against Mersal by sharing pirated links of the film on social media. Claiming that the film shows them in poor light, they said that they have chosen this silent protest as this would hit the film’s box office collection. Madurai-based lawyer has lodged complaint against Mersal for hurting sentiments of Hindus.
Soaring box office collection
The film opened to a record breaking box office collection on day one reportedly collecting Rs 31.3 crores and has joined the famed Rs 100 -crore club during the weekend. In fact, BJP’s faux pas propelled the film’s performance at the box office and the international market as well.