From the Viewsroom

Mersal as GST for dummies

Venky Vembu | Updated on January 08, 2018

The film plays with facts, but the BJP’s response is venomous

It is a measure of the ‘post-truth’ world we live in that Mersal, a Tamil commercial film that purports to convey a social message, plays fast and loose with easily verifiable facts about the Goods and Services Tax in respect of the healthcare industry. The claptrap dialogues mouthed by protagonist Vijay may not withstand the scrutiny of fact-checkers, but they have played well with gullible audiences for whom nuance in narratives is an expendable luxury. And particularly since the complexities of the GST framework have bamboozled even domain experts, the space has been opened up for ill-informed commentary with pseudo-intellectual pretensions to masquerade as pop-sociological critique. Mersal fills that space with a slick storyline.

Tamil filmdom has a history of operating as a vehicle for political mobilisation: three of the State’s chief ministers — M Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa — trace their roots to cinema. It was Karunanidhi’s searing screenplay, laden with political messaging, that laid the foundation for the ascent of the DMK to power in the 1960s; MGR too charted a similar trajectory, but as an actor, and later anointed Jayalalithaa as his political heir. In this universe, therefore, it is hard to tell where cinema and the creative endeavour give way to politics and propaganda.

Even so, the response of the State unit of the BJP — in calling for the politically sensitive dialogues in Mersal to be censored — is ham-handed and represents a disdain for freedom of artistic expression. The doctrine of free speech dictates that Mersal has a right to be wrong. Even more venomous is the BJP leaders’ attempt to give the controversy a communal hue by pointedly alluding to the lead actor as ‘Joseph Vijay’, insinuating that the BJP is the target of a Christian ‘hate campaign’. These prickly leaders will be better served by reflecting on the reasons for the GST’s unpopularity and why even half-baked on-screen criticism resonates thunderously with audiences.

Associate Editor

Published on October 22, 2017

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