Political controversies can often bring great publicity for a film and actor Vijay seems to have made it a recipe for success.
In his last film, Mersal (2017), he seemingly took on the Narendra Modi government with charged dialogues on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and that made the BJP angry. The controversy and demands for censorship by the BJP, perhaps, turned a hit into a blockbuster.
One may not have anticipated such a strong reaction from the BJP to ‘Mersal’, but certainly AR Murugadoss, the director of actor Vijay’s latest blockbuster Sarkar, should have anticipated a strong reaction from the ruling AIADMK dispensation in Tamil Nadu.
After all, they decided to name the antagonist in the film Komalavalli.
Komalavalli was the name given to Late Jayalalithaa at birth after her grandmother. However, her official name, since childhood, was Jayalalithaa (initially with her father’s name Jayaram as the last name and later just Jayalalithaa).
The script of Sarkar revolves around Vijay’s character Sundar, a corporate honcho who returns from the US to take on the political system in Tamil Nadu, against Komalavalli, the politician.
It may not have been easy to get away with such a reference when the late Jayalalithaa was in power, in fact, few would have dared to go ahead with such a film, but now Tamil Nadu’s political landscape has changed.
It needs to be unequivocally stated that the right to name characters or narrate a story is a filmmaker’s fundamental constitutional right. So, there is no justification for the AIADMK demanding censorship or enforcing it with the use of brute force.
Having stated that clearly, one may also ask why trample on a dead politician’s grave. This is not a historic documentary. It is purely an often repeated, melodramatic star story aimed only at commercial success.
In such a story, was it necessary to have such an overt reference to the late Chief Minister? This is the question the ruling party has raised. It claims that it offends its emotions, but the truth is that the ruling dispensation is desperate to establish itself as the custodian of the Jayalalithaa legacy.
Given the overt reference to her, it simply had to send a message that it will oppose it and this message is primarily to the AIADMK cadre and that section of the electorate that retains an emotional connect with the late AIADMK supremo.
Now to the other question, why would the filmmaker choose such an overt reference to the late Chief Minister?
Firstly, the ruling dispensation must understand that this may not be necessarily to do with her time in office alone, but the massive dissatisfaction with their time in office.
The fact that there is an enormous resentment against the AIADMK, in its present state of affairs, is perhaps what the filmmakers want to depict by overtly referring to the late party chief. They are well within their rights to do so.
This is not the first time that the role of the antagonist in a Tamil blockbuster is being traced back to Jayalalithaa. In 1998, superstar Rajinikanth’s blockbuster Padayappa revolved around the antagonist Nilambari and the dialogues were seen as a message to a Jayalalithaa, who had been routed out of power after corruption allegations.
At that time, the film was seen as a challenge to her dictatorial and arrogant style of functioning and Rajinikanth had even challenged her in real life politics. The reference in Sarkar though seems trivial compared to the portrayal in Padayappa which challenged a powerful politician openly when she was alive.
Now that Rajinikanth has entered politics, the question that’s being asked is if Vijay is planning a similar course, especially in light of charged political films.
It is an expected question in a state where politics has virtually become the retirement occupation for stars!
For the moment, it seems that Vijay (Illaya Thalapathi or Young General) as he is called may only be using political controversies to make his films have a wider appeal and not really a serious political possibility.
But then one can never predict the next act in the Dravidian political drama!
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)