The Bharatiya Janata Party in Tamil Nadu could not have found a better time to shoot itself in the foot. The controversial scene in actor Vijay’s Mersal, which apparently criticises Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet schemes like the GST and the Digital India, have gone viral on social media. The makers of the film, Thenandal Films, might have agreed to silence the contentious dialogues emotionally delivered by Vijay, but the saffron party's protest and criticism have given a much bigger audience for Mersal.
The scene in which Vijay compares the 7 per cent GST in Singapore and 28 per cent GST in India, and criticises the medical facilities available in the government hospitals, elicited cheers from the audience. But now, after the dialogues have been silenced, the two-minute scene is being widely shared and watched on social media.
“Why medicines have a GST of 12 per cent, while alcohol, which kills many, doesn’t. Singapore, which has 7 per cent GST, offers free health care. A baby died in hospital due to rat bite and four people undergoing dialysis died because of power cut and there was no generator to support. The fear of such incidents in government hospitals becomes the investment of private ones,” says the character played by Vijay. The dialogue is an apparent reference to the death of several children due to the lack of oxygen cylinders at a Gorakhpur hospital in Uttar Pradesh.
The controversy on Mersal began on Thursday, a day after the film had hit the screens across the globe. The first salvo was fired by BJP’s Tamil Nadu president Tamilisai Soundararajan as she said the scenes related to GST and Digital India must be removed. “I still haven’t watched the film. But those who saw the movie say that there are factual errors in it with regard to GST and Digital India. These schemes were brought for the welfare of the people. These scenes only create a wrong impression in the minds of the people,” she told THE WEEK.
BJP’s senior leader H. Raja took the controversy to a new level when he called actor Vijay with his full name saying, “Joseph Vijay’s hate campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
Raja took to Twitter to call the film as a 'movie made with Christian plot'. Raja went to the extent of asking the actor to clarify his tax filings. “It is a lie that healthcare is free in Singapore. School education and healthcare are free for the poor in India. Mersal is Joseph Vijay’s opposition to Modi.” In another tweet, he said: “Churches built in TN in last 20 yrs:17500, mosques:9700, temples:370. So what does Vijay want to stop for the building of hospitals.”
But the BJP’s continuous attacks on the film have pushed the saffron party’s image further down in the Dravidian land. Support has started pouring in for Mersal, after Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, former Union minister P. Chidambaram, DMK leader M.K. Stalin and veteran actor Kamal Haasan expressed their views through their tweets.
Taking a dig at Narendra Modi, Rahul said "Cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don't try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal."
“BJP demands deletion of dialogues in Mersal. Imagine the consequences if Parasakthi was released today. Notice to film makers: Law is coming, you can only make documentaries praising government's policies," Chidambaram tweeted. Parasakthi (1952) produced by AVM productions for which the dialogues were penned by DMK leader M. Karunanidhi criticised the socio-economic conditions prevailing at that time.
Stalin, in his tweet, said that the BJP's attempt to "muzzle" criticism is contrary to democratic principles. "The DMK always stands for freedom of speech and creative expression," he said.
Kamal Haasan tweeted saying, “Mersal was certified. Dont re-censor it. Counter criticism with logical response. Don't silence critics. India will shine when it speaks.”
BJP’s criticism has brought more audience for Mersal at a time when the state government in Tamil Nadu reportedly seem to be a pawn in the hands of the Centre. In fact, a recent video of Dairy Development Minister K.T. Rajenthira Balaji, that went viral on social media on Saturday, makes it apparent as to how the BJP is indirectly ruling Tamil Nadu. Balaji was seen saying at a party event in Theni, “Modi will take care. The government in Tamil Nadu will have its full term. We will get the two-leaves symbol, Modi will ensure that. No one can do anything to us—not even Obama or Trump. Modi will protect us. Delhi is with us.”