The producers of the Tamil film Mersal, which opened to packed theatres on Diwali, have decided to remove scenes that the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed were insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre’s policies, The New Indian Express reported on Friday.
The BJP was particularly irked by a two-and-a-half minute sequence in which the character played by the actor Vijay launches a tirade against the Goods and Services Tax in a press conference and also criticises the government for failing to provide proper healthcare. In the sequence, Vijay states that Singapore, which has a GST rate of 7%, is able to provide free healthcare to all its citizens but India, where the maximum GST slab is 28%, the government has not been able to ensure this. In another sequence, the actor took a dig at Modi’s decision last year to demonetise 86% of the currency.
On Wednesday, BJP Tamil Nadu president Tamilisai Soundararajan had demanded that the sequences be removed from the movie, failing which the party would launch protests at theatres. She said the lines were factually inaccurate and created a wrong impression about the government’s policies.
Matters escalated on Friday when BJP national secretary H Raja attacked Vijay on Twitter, claiming that the lines in the movie exposed the actor’s ignorance on economic matters.
BJP hits back
In his tweets, Raja also made a reference to the actor’s Christian background by referring to him by his full name, Joseph Vijay. Raja also suggested that it was a lie that healthcare was free in Singapore. On the other hand, all government-run schools and hospitals in India already provide free healthcare, he claimed.
The leader sought to know if Vijay would speak up about allegations on his attempts to evade tax. In October 2015, the Income Tax Department had raided properties connected to the actor.
However, actor and BJP member Gayatri Raghuram disagreed with Raja, saying it was not right to target actors for the lines as dialogue writing was within the actor’s purview.
Vijay’s father responds
Reacting to the controversy, Vijay’s father SA Chandrashekar, who is also a movie director, told Times Now that even some BJP leaders had been critical of GST and demonetisation. To criticise a government decision that hurts citizens is a fundamental right, he argued.
Chandrashekar said as an actor, his son had the responsibility to reform society using the powerful medium of cinema. “Every actor should be like this,” he added.
He pointed out that the movie and the sequences in question had been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification and had not violated any laws.
The controversy brought Vijay support from an unlikely quarter. Fans of another reigning Tamil superstar, Ajith, who often spar with Vijay fans on social media, spoke out in support of the Mersal actor on Twitter and Facebook, asking him not to bow down to the BJP by removing the scenes.
During the run up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Modi met Vijay in Coimbatore in what was widely seen at that time as an attempt to reach out to the large fan base actor’s large fan base.