Mersal GST issue: Tamil film fraternity, political parties decry efforts to muzzle criticism


Political parties and the film fraternity in Tamil Nadu lashed out at the BJP on Saturday for trying to muzzle criticism and creative expression in the country, and rallied behind makers of film Mersal who have been asked by BJP leaders to remove scenes that “convey wrong impression” of GST.

As the issue is gathering steam, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and DMK working president M K Stalin, and actors Kamal Haasan, Arvind Swamy and TN Film Producers Association voiced their support for Mersal’s makers, including director Atlee and actor Vijay.

BJP’s TN chief Tamilisai Soundarrajan had on Thursday objected to scenes in the film that “convey wrong impression about GST and Digital India” and sought their removal.

The scenes mock the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Digital India initiatives launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While one scene compares the GST in India and Singapore, another takes a potshot at Digital India initiative.

As the film’s producers are believed to have expressed willingness to cut the scenes, politicians and the industry rushed to their support.

In a jibe, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to slam Modi, saying, “Mr Modi, cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don’t try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal.”

Rahul’s wordplay hits spot on at Modi’s another major monetary measure — demonetisation (replacing of Rs 500/1,000 notes with new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes) — effected in November last year, following which Modi had asked everyone to go the cashless and digital for financial transactions.

Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram took a dig at the BJP’s attempts to silence criticism. “Notice to film makers: Law is coming, you can only make documentaries praising the government’s policies,” he tweeted.

Union minister of state, Pon Radhakrishnan, the lone BJP MP in Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu, reiterated Soudarrajan’s demand, asking if a film was meant for everyone, why was it attacking only one party?

“Does that mean that Chidambaram has funded the movie? But we are not saying this at all. There are factual inaccuracies in the film that need to be deleted,” he said.

DMK’s Stalin too hit out at the BJP’s efforts at muzzling criticism, saying it was contrary to democratic principles. “The DMK always stands for freedom of speech and creative expression,” he tweeted.

Film stars such as Kamal Haasan, Khushboo, Arvind Swami and others questioned the attack on artistic freedom.

“Mersal was certified. Don’t re-censor it. Counter criticism with logical response. Don’t silence critics. India will shine when it speaks,” Kamal Haasan tweeted.

TN Film Producers Association general secretary and actor, Vishal said in a statement issued here on Saturday that “political leaders asking for removal of certain scenes in movie Mersal is direct conflict of interest of freedom of expression”.

“A political party cannot decide what scene or a dialogue should be in a movie. If that is the case, then what is the use of having a censor board?” he asked.

In recent years, filmmakers have come under attack by Hindu, nationalist-outfits in what is developing into a hot debate over need for factual and political correctness in fictional work against creative freedom.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming Padmavati has come under attack and threats from Rajput outfits, which claim the film portrays wrong notions of queen Padmavati, a 14th century Chittor in Rajasthan.

Also, since last year, several films, including Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees and Dear Zindagi, came under attack from such outfits which opposed the role of Pakistani artistes, following which the practice has been stopped.

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