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Mersal Row: BJP Leader’s ‘Joseph Vijay’ Faux Pas Makes The Film A National Discourse

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Mersal, national

It’s day 4 of the controversy surrounding Vijay’s blockbuster Deepavali release, Mersal. Ever since BJP got into the fray, with demands by Tamil Nadu state unit chief Tamilisai Sounderrajan asking for cuts in the film, and BJP leader H. Raja’s gaffes about watching the film online, illegally, as well as “exposing” Vijay’s “bitter truth” – his name, the film has crossed borders and has become ‘national’ news.

The BJP that’s been on the back foot ever since news of the slump in the GDP was reported and is still recovering from the attacks of the Opposition, but this is one controversy they could have easily avoided.

Even if the state unit of the BJP had felt the need to call out Mersal’s portrayal of the central government’s demonetisation and GST schemes, it could have released a quiet press statement. However, Tamilisai Soundararajan and H. Raja’s antics, and the strident, shrill demands for a cut on a film that has already passed through the censor board, was somewhat of an own-goal, and ended up having a Streisand Effect on the film.

Over the last few months, there has been severe anxiety in Tamil Nadu, as people believed that there is increasing interference from the ruling party at the Centre. The BJP has never been strong in Tamil Nadu, and has always been viewed as the North Indian party. However, ever since late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s death, and the complete chaos and political instability that followed, and people of the state are extremely wary of any kind of political upheaval. The DMK has also been uncharacteristically quiet. For a party that could once capitalise on public sentiments for its political gains, the silence is very surprising.

Given all this, the public have been waiting for one icon or one big event to express their displeasure over the power vacuum. Jallikattu gave them the first opportunity. Now, Mersal has given them – and Vijay – an even bigger opportunity. Issue surrounding Mersal is no longer specific to Tamil Nadu, it has entered the national discourse. The Congress party which has been on a losing streak since 2014 has grasped onto this issue with Rahul Gandhi tweeting in favour of Mersal. 

Here’s a look at the various opinions that the issue brought forth:

Aditya Sinha, writing in the MidDay, says, “But to reduce criticism of demonetisation and GST to simply political ambition is to ignore the element of social commentary that has long existed in Tamil cinema. Vijay’s latest Mersal cites these economic missteps and has made Modi squirm so much that his state unit has gone after Vijay in the true BJP manner, by reducing Vijay to some sinister Christian. Such nonsense will prove counterproductive in states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala (the BJP avoids such boneheadedness in the North East or in Kashmir). With such office-bearers, the BJP can forget about Tamil Nadu in the proximate future.”

Sudha G Tilak, writes in The Indian Express: “The BJP, seen as a North Indian party with a swaggering saffron profile, has only shown by its inane objection to Mersal that the south, Tamil Nadu especially, is not an easy monolith to conquer, by either threat and bluster. Its own cultural heroes and brand of politics that are not immune to street fights and personality cults know only too well the art of political muscle flexing.”

G Pramod Kumar writes for The Huffington Post: Mersal is not a petty political quarrel, but a symbol of Tamil resistance to any form of top-down nationalism that has little relevance to the state. And it has been an unequivocal trend since the time of the anti-Hindi agitations in the 1930s, 40s and the 60s. The same Tamil unity had been repeated in the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, Cauvery and Mullapperiyar water disputes, and in recent times, in Jallikkattu, NEET and finally in GST.

Amid all this brouhaha, the producers of Mersal and Vijay must be having the last laugh as the film has already made close to Rs. 150 crores, and with more people seeing it, and with national coverage, this number can only go up.

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