When a team of Income Tax sleuths descended on Kollywood last week and pulled actor Vijay from the sets of his upcoming film Master, it was a clear message to the burgeoning Tamil film industry. The raids, subsequent questioning and the summons issued by the I-T department to Vijay have added more spice to the several theories floated in Kollywood on the actors aspiring to be successful politicians in Tamil Nadu in the near future.
On Monday, as the I-T department sent summons to Vijay to appear in person and respond to various queries, it was the actor's time to respond to the “political targeting”. The actor took to Twitter to post a selfie that he clicked from atop a vanity van, with the caption, “Thank You Neyveli.”
Vijay's selfie with a massive crowd that gathered in front of the van at the Master shooting spot has gone viral with hashtags #ThalapathyVijay, #MasterSelfie and #ThalapathySelfie. Vijay clicked the selfie as he returned to Neyveli where he was shooting for the Lokesh Kanagaraj’s film. A visibly happy Vijay, climbed atop a van, as he came back to the set after long hours of questioning by the I-T department.
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The selfie is looked at as Vijay’s way of responding to the “political targeting” he has been facing for the past few years, especially since the release of Mersal. A week before, when Vijay went to shoot for Master inside Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) in Cuddalore, the BJP cadres protested saying shooting cannot happen in a protected mining area. The Master production team had, however, taken permission from the NLC authorities for the shooting.
Vijay, popularly known as Thalapathy among his fans, is one of the biggest stars in Kollywood, whose recent films have had strong political messages. His Mersal, which was vehemently opposed by the BJP in Tamil Nadu, had strong messages against demonetisation and GST and other central government policies. His next, Sarkar, which saw opposition from the ruling AIADMK, attacked the freebie culture and Jayalalithaa’s style of politics. His recent, Bigil, however, kept itself away from politics but talked about women power and the politics in sports.
“Among big stars, only Vijay's films are being shot in Tamil Nadu. The ten days' shoot of Master would provide one crore revenue to people in Neyveli and surrounding locales through hotel bookings, food and car rent. If you continue protesting against film shoots in Tamil Nadu, people of the state will have to face the loss. The makers of Ajith’s Viswasam constructed the Theni temple in Hyderabad. Had the shoot happened in Tamil Nadu, our people would have benefitted,” said R.K. Selvamani, president of the FEFSI, the welfare association for the workers in the Tamil film industry. Selvamani also made a point that these days, film shoots of actors like Rajinikanth and Ajith happen in other states due to lack of permission. Selvamani’s statement was a direct attack on the protesting BJP which had targeted Vijay during the release of Mersal. The party’s national general secretary H. Raja had gone to the extent of tweeting Vijay’s voter ID and said Vijay’s name was Joseph Vijay.
Vijay’s films, though mediocre in terms of script and stories, have grossed a massive victory in the box office, making his rivals and seniors in the industry like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth look at him with awe. Moreover, Vijay, unlike his close rivals like Ajith and Surya, has been showing keen interest in politics. His father S.A. Chandrasekhar has every now and then made it apparent that Vijay will take a political plunge in the future.
Vijay’s growing fan frenzy and his political interests, sources say, have irked his seniors in the industry. The I-T raids at Vijay’s Panaiyur residence and 22 other places in Tamil Nadu were linked to the raids at film financier G.N. Anbu Cheziyan’s office and residence, and the buzz is that it was aimed at sending a message to the Tamil film industry—not to mess with Rajinikanth. Industry insiders say that most of the film distributors who protested in front of Rajinikanth’s Poes Garden residence a week before demanding refund from him for the Darbar loss, had taken money from Anbu. It was rumoured that Anbu was targeted because he had instigated the protests against Rajinikanth. The 52- year old financier is one of the most sought after personalities in the Tamil film industry as he is always “loaded with money”, according to industry sources. Anbu commands respect and fear in the tinsel town. His name has been in several controversies right from the death of producer G. Venkateswaran, brother of Mani Ratnam, to a complaint filed by a film producer in 2011 against him for harassment.
The raids at Anbu’s premises apparently led to Bigil producer AGS group and then to Vijay.
According to sources, the raids and subsequent actions from the I-T department have sent a strong message not only to the film industry, but also to the politicians in the state patronising Anbu. Sources say that Anbu’s links with a political family which was once powerful in the state during Jayalalithaa's regime was probed during the searches.
However, the BJP's protests and the I-T raids have only increased Vijay's popularity among his fans. Vijay, who always stays away from tweeting photos other than his film posters, took to Twitter for the first time to tweet the van selfie, thus sending a message to those who oppose him.