Vijay-starrer 'Mersal''s producer Hema Rukmani, CEO of Thenandal Studios Limited in a tweet confirmed that no scenes from the movie will be cut or muted after she met BJP leaders earlier today. The leaders had earlier raised objections to certain dialogues in the film, and clarified that their intention was not to hurt anyone's sentiments.
Tamil actor Vijay has been under attack from Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Tamil Nadu for his dialogues in the Atlee-directed Diwali release that reportedly takes a dig at two of the ruling party's initiatives - the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and digital India. Another dialogue on temples has been viewed by one of the leaders as being critical of the Hindu religion.
Here is a gist of the official statement issued by Thenandal Studios Limited:
“... The movie Mersal is not against anyone, nor does it portray any views against the government. ‘Medical care for the common man’ is the dream of the character in the film. To give good films that provide wholesome entertainment to the people has been our motive over the years. If the movie has hurt the feelings of anyone, I consider it my personal heartache...
Tamilisai Soundarrajan and many others appreciated our direct approach. According to their point of view, their protest is valid. If any scenes or dialogues are objectionable, we are ready to remove them.
I thank Tamilians across the world, especially fans of Ilayathalapathy Vijay, on behalf of Thennandal Films, for making this Deepavali a Mersal Deepavali.”
Politicos tweet their support for 'Mersal'
On Saturday, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi tweeted:
Mr. Modi, Cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don't try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) October 21, 2017
Earlier in the day, Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram attacked the BJP by sarcastically saying that there could be laws for making documentaries which praise the government's policies. He tweeted: "Notice to film makers: Law is coming, you can only make documentaries praising government's policies."
In another tweet, he said: "BJP demands deletion of dialogues in 'Mersal'. Imagine the consequences if 'Parasakthi' was released today." 'Parasakthi', a strong critique of the prevailing socio-economic order, was the debut film of yesteryear top star Sivaji Ganesan in 1952 and the dialogues were written by DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who was then a budding leader in the party and a screen writer.
The super-hit movie had powerful dialogues espousing reformist and egalitarian ideals. Chidambaram had asked what would happen if the movie were to be released today.
Replying to the tweet, Tamil Nadu BJP leader and national secretary H Raja said if that were to happen, people would not allow the government to run temples by quoting a popular dialogue from 'Parasakthi'. Raja was reiterating the stand of the BJP and right-wing outfits that the state government should stop administering temples and hand them over to devotees.
Senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor tweeted:
AICC secretary Manickam Tagore, who watched Mersal with his family on Friday, described it as a powerful film by director Atlee Kumar and said even his children enjoyed the flick in which popular actor Vijay has played the lead role.
“Purely shows the @BJP4TamilNadu & its OB who don't accept two dialogue in a film! How they can run nation ? God save India,” Tagore tweeted.
Here is why BJP is objecting to 'Mersal'
On Friday, H Raja in a tweet raked up the actor's Christian origins. "Joseph Vijay's hatred for Modi is 'Mersal'."
Referring to a dialogue in the film where the actor stated that more hospitals should be built than temples, Raja told The Indian Express that the actor was only bringing in temples, and not churches and mosques, when asked why he made a reference to Vijay’s Christian name. The report also said that he was trying to find out the religion of producer Hema Rukmani of Thenandal Studios.
Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan too said: “The film producer should remove the untruths regarding GST from the film."
Tamil Nadu BJP President Tamilisai Soundrajan, on the other hand, demanded removal of the dialogues relating to GST, digital payments and Hindu religion from the movie, saying that they were "incorrect references".
According to reports, following the pressure, Mersal’s producer, Murali Ramaswamy of Sri Thenandal Films (TSL), agreed to remove these scenes from the film.
There is no official word yet from TSL and Murali Ramasamy, the producers of 'Mersal'. However, speculation is rife that the producers are planning to submit a written statement to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) seeking cuts on four scenes from Tuesday, October 24.
What are the controversial scenes the BJP is demanding to be chopped?
In one scene, when robbers attempt to mug Vadivelu’s character, they find his wallet empty. Vadivelu thanks digital India for not leaving him in possession with any liquid cash - "These days nobody has money in their hand, it is all digital money and everyone is waiting in the queue."
Vijay’s character, in another scene, claims that despite having low tax, Singapore is able to provide better medical facilities, whereas people in India pay a GST tax of around 28 percent, but they do not even get access to free medical treatment. He also raises questions about the imposition of 12 percent tax on medicines, which are supposed to save people’s lives.
Doctors miffed with 'Mersal'
In a fresh twist to the controversy, doctors in the state protested against the portrayal of the medical industry in the film where Vetri and Maaran (both played by Vijay) fight against the medical mafia. Reportedly, doctors are sharing links of pirated versions of the movie available online, urging even paramedical staff to boycott the film in an effort to hit the film's collections.
Protesting doctors alleged that Vijay in the film advised people to visit private hospitals rather than government due to the absence of good medical service in the government ones.
Yesterday, Tamilisai Soundararajan tweeted in support of the doctors' stand: "MERSAL ridicules Dedicated Doctors disheartened /ambulance drivers shown corrupt /doctors should take 5rupees while the actor gets crores???"
Industry stands by 'Mersal'
Actor and President, Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) Vishal issued a statement against the censorship demanded by BJP.
Actor Kamal Hassan on Friday tweeted his support for 'Mersal':
Mersal was certified. Dont re-censor it . Counter criticism with logical response. Dont silence critics. India will shine when it speaks.— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) October 20, 2017
All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) chief and actor Sarath Kumar tweeted: "A film which is CERTIFIED by censor board cannot be questioned. If questionable, why censor board at all? #Mersel."
'Kabali' director Pa Ranjith also supported the film and told the media as quoted by a Hindustan Times report, “I don’t think there is a need to remove portions in Mersal that addresses the GST and other issues. When these scenes are played in the theatre, there is a lot of claps as people appreciated and supported them. Politicians should take the hint and reconsider these issues.”
Actor Nagma, cinematographer PC Sreeram, among others, too joined the chorus of support.
#Mersal— pcsreeram (@pcsreeram) October 20, 2017
Freedom of speech caught by the throat.
DMK-AIADMK blame game begins again
Meanwhile, Vice President of BJP Youth Wing and RSS Swayamsevak SG Suryah, has been tweeting about the films which faced censorship during the Opposition DMK's regimes.
I guess its time to dig out the censorships that Mr.Karunanithi imposed on artistic freedom during his DMK Rule in Tamil Nadu. Shall start.— SG Suryah (@SuryahSG) October 21, 2017
DMK Working President MK Stalin in a tweet today seemed to be responding to SG Suryah's tweet:
BJP's attempt to muzzle criticism is contrary to democratic principles. The DMK always stands for freedom of speech & creative expression— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) October 21, 2017
Not the first controversy for 'Mersal'
The release of the film was feared to encounter problems when Tamil Nadu producers and the governement faced a stand-off over the imposition of entertainment tax in addition to GST. The issue was resolved when the government agreed to lower the tax. Actor Vijay reportedly visited Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy to thank him for the tax reduction.
The Diwali release had stirred a row even before its release, when it did not get an NOC from the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) over the makers not being able to submit adequate documents to prove few scenes involving a pigeon and a snake were not shot using CGI. The scenes were trimmed before release.
There was an issue with the film's title as well. The Madras HC had previously restrained the producers of the film from using the word 'Mersal' as its title, based on a civil suit filed last month by A Rajendran of 'Film Factori' production house.
The petitioner, had filed an affidavit in Chennai seeking an interim stay on the film after the production house, Sri Thenandal Films, trademarked the title Mersal without proper registration. He submitted that he had commenced production of 'Mersalaitan' in August last year, but was shocked to know that there was another film titled 'Mersal.'
Later, the high court cleared all decks for 'Mersal's release with Justice Anitha Sumanth saying that the "entire case of the applicant is based on the premise of probabilities and assumptions - assumed right to the title, assumed prejudice to reputation caused by non-existent use of the film title and assumed deception by the respondents."
The counsel for the producers Thenandal Studios Ltd and Sri Thenandal Films argued that the word 'Mersal' is a generic word in Tamil over which none could claim exclusive rights.
The registration of a title with the Tamil Nadu Tamil Film Producers Council is solely to serve the purpose of avoiding duplication of titles and does not create any other enforceable right over such title, the counsel had said.
Political whataboutery has little impact on 'Mersal''s box office collection
'Mersal' marks the second collaboration between actor Vijay and director Atlee. The duo earlier worked together in 'Theri'. The film has released in a record 3,500 plus screens across the globe and is receiving largely positive reviews.
The film has broken Rajinkanth starrer 'Kabali's record in receiving the highest opening day collections in Tamil Nadu.
By collecting Rs 31 crore on opening day, 'Mersal', Vijay's has scored way above 'Kabali', which had pulled in Rs 23.3 crore last year.
The Hindu quotes Tiruppur Subramaniam, a leading distributor and exhibitor in Tamil Nadu as saying, “Yes, the first day collection of Mersal is somewhere between Rs 22 -24 Crore in Tamil Nadu alone. Clearly it has surpassed the opening of Rajinikanth’s Kabali and Vijay’s earlier film Theri.”
(With inputs from agencies)