Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar is known for being outspoken and politically engaged. He was irked when a politician, in a sweeping generalisation, dismissed Indian film stars as having "very low IQ and very low general knowledge."
On Saturday, 21 October, BJP's national spokesperson, GVL Narsimha Rao, appeared on Times Now to address the ongoing controversy stirred up by Mersal, a Tamil film. Rao made the patently unfair comment while talking about actors weighing in on political issues.
Reacting to Rao, on Sunday, 22 October, Akhtar made his displeasure over the statement known on Twitter. Tagging Rao, he tweeted, "How dare you, sir?? @GVLNRAO And to all film people in his ranks.. here's what he thinks of you. #shame"
Standing his ground, Rao shot back with, "Farhan ji, Expressing an opinion is not a dare. Respect stars4work. Pl do take criticism in stride. No intolerance please!! @FarOutAkhtar"
Rao is not the only BJP leader to hold such a view. On Friday, 20 October, BJP national secretary H Raja attacked Vijay on Twitter, saying that his lines in Mersal exposed the actor's ignorance on economic matters.
BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, has taken great exception to several dialogues in Mersal that are unflinchingly critical of the sudden demonetisation in order to force India towards becoming a cashless economy, and the recent enforced Goods and Service Tax, or GST. Both drastic moves have been widely criticised for their poor planning and execution, and have left the middle class India reeling.
One contentious scene, that the BJP in Tamil Nadu wants deleted from the film, has its lead actor Vijay criticising the government saying that it is unable to provide free healthcare in India despite the high GST rates, while Singapore manages to do it with a much lower GST burden. In another scene, an actor is seen showing his empty wallet, a commentary on how note ban has pushed a section of people into poverty.
Since the movie's release on Diwali, the BJP has been chomping at the bit, claiming that the dialogues are a "misrepresentation of facts" and that they "can't allow lies to be told."
Tamil Nadu BJP chief Tamilisai Sounderrajan and union minister Pon Radhakrishnan have demanded immediate cuts to the film, despite the movie being cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). According to several media reports, BJP's concerted campaign against the film have rattled Mersal's makers and they have indicated a willingness to remove "misleading portions" of the film, if need be.
Despite this, BJP's mounting pressure tactics have not gone unnoticed, and several bigwigs of Tamil cinema. Kamal Haasan and Kabali director Pa. Ranjith have both spoken out in favour of Mersal and sharply crticised BJP for stifling freedom of expression by demanding cuts on its own whims, even after its clearance by the CBFC.
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