Mersal isn’t the only Tamil movie to poke fun at the Goods and Service Tax. On October 21, actor and radio jockey Balaji tweeted a scene from Kee, which complains about the impact of the widely reviled taxation system on restaurant bills.
In the clip from the upcoming movie, which has been directed by Kalees, Balaji’s character narrates a story about two friends going to eat dinner at a restaurant. “It’ll actually be just you and me dining at a restaurant. But the bill will be so huge that it will look like two more people joined us for dinner. You know who those extra people are? They are GST. They make one’s stomach burn,” he says.
The video was released two days after the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tamil Nadu wing demanded the removal of a scene from Mersal, in which lead actor Vijay criticises GST and the government’s inability to provide reliable healthcare. Soundararajan claimed that Mersal was an insult to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre’s policies, forcing the producers to declare that they would consider removing the sequence. The scene has, however, not been excised from the October 18 release.
The timing of the promo from Kee is no coincidence, Balaji told Scroll.in. “As a film, Kee has nothing to do with GST as such; it is actually a film that talks about the scary bits of the internet,” said Balaji, who is a popular radio jockey and a television host in Chennai. “This scene in which I speak about GST is one that we dubbed much before the Mersal controversy. But we wanted to release the scene as a promo now because we wanted to send a message. If you think you can stop one film from talking about issues, there will be many others that will speak up. You can’t stop people from speaking their minds or expressing themselves. We wanted to make a statement that we are not scared and we are not going to stop expressing ourselves.”
What if the BJP raises similar objections to Kee? “If anyone asks us to remove the scene, again it will not be justified at all,” Balaji said. “Take Mersal, for example. The censor board itself did not raise any objections to the scene. Now, after the release of the film, nobody has any right to object to anything. In Kee, the scene we just released isn’t mind-bogglingly brilliant or anything. It is just that we had already shot and dubbed the scene and we thought we should use it to send a message. How many films will you stop, we want to ask.”
An environment of fear has set in throughout the country, especially across the media, Balaji observed, and it was time to address the stifling of opposing points of view. “This level of censorship or monitoring content is not acceptable,” Balaji said. “If there is an issue, people are bound to talk about the pros and cons of it. The same applies to content in a film. Yes, cinema is a very powerful medium. You can’t say certain issues cannot be referred to or brought up in a film.”