POLITICS

'Mersal' Controversy: Will BJP's Tamil Nadu Strategy Turn Out To Be A Disaster?

No one messes with the state's silver screen gods.

22/10/2017 4:14 PM IST | Updated 22/10/2017 6:02 PM IST
Screenshot from Mersal trailer.

That the BJP has been running the AIADMK show from behind the curtains is probably Tamil Nadu's worst-kept secret at the moment. A day ago, Tamil Nadu's dairy development minister Rajender Balaji admitted, unabashedly, that AIADMK has to fear nothing and no one because the party has the support of Prime Minister Modi. Anyone familiar with Tamil Nadu's politics will agree that this 'mere paas Modi hai' sentiment defines AIADMK, post Jayalalithaa.

On the face of it, it may seem that having control over the AIADMK would make BJP a force to reckon with in Tamil Nadu. However, what the party did not factor in, in its quest to gain power over Tamil Nadu's politics, is the resistance it faced from the film industry. It may have been prepared for a battle with the Congress-DMK alliance, but Kollywood? Not something they had a defence plan for.

The past week hasn't been the best of the party in Tamil Nadu. First, Kamal Haasan, who isn't anyway a great fan of the saffron brigade, retracted his statement supporting demonetisation. In a column, he not only apologised for supporting demonetisation but also demanded that Prime Minister Modi admit that the decision to demonetize was not an erroneous one, or at least, the way it was implemented was a mistake.

This Diwali, the release of Mersal, starring Tamil superstar Vijay left the BJP stunned. The film pulls no punches in its criticism of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), one of NDA government's trophy projects. It did not help that the BJP leaders didn't let the film take it's natural course and disappear from public memory -- the early reviews of the film were not encouraging with critics pointing out that that it was a rehash of several old Tamil films. Instead, they went at the film hammer and tongs, giving it a new lease of life at the box office.

Sources say that the BJP sees the two developments as potentially threatening to all the work they had done to gain mileage in the state. Considering that both Vijay and Kamal Hasaan have considerable influence of thousands of Tamilians, open criticism against the Centre could make an impression on the electorate.

It didn't also help that Vijay's supporters made #MersalvsModi trend on Twitter, throwing a challenge at the Prime Minister himself. As a result, BJP's attempts to point out what they called was an inaccurate portrayal of the GST, sank.

Kamal was the first to tweet in Mersal's support articulating that once it has passed the scrutiny of the Censor Board, no one can ask a filmmaker to cut his movie again. The South Indian Artistes Association too has spoken in support of the film now.

But the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP sees a political motive behind Vijay's character criticising the GST in Mersal. Most of them argued that Vijay has done this to further his own political ambitions. In what was a crude, below the belt remark, H Raja, the national secretary of the BJP sought to emphasize Vijay's full name -- Joseph Vijay -- in what seemed like a bid to suggest that his Christian roots has something to do with him critiquing the BJP. One was reminded how Prime Minister Modi, back in 2002, used a similar strategy to question his critics. Irked by chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh's directives, Modi had sought to spell out his full name -- James Michael Lyngdoh -- not in a matter-of-fact manner, but as a suggestion that he may be close to Congress since he is a Christian.

The narrative around BJP's move to re-censor Mersal has been cast in a way that suggests that the party has hurt Tamil pride. That can't be good news for the party.

The feeling on the street already is how despite the BJP's best attempts to push O Panneerselvam tp capture the AIADMK's top leadership, he could not muster enough support and therefore Plan B of effecting a merger with the Edappadi Palaniswami group had to be kicked in. BJP secured less than 3 per cent vote share and zero seats in the 2016 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. No wonder several people feel that the party is punching way above its weight in trying to dictate what the state can watch in movie theatres and what they cannot.

While Mersal's GST scene has gone viral, the next movie that is likely to cause a similar or bigger storm would be Kamal Haasan's 'Indian 2'. Given the actor's political inclinations, it's fair to assume that his role as an anti-corruption vigilante, will be a loaded one.

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