Tamil cinema

Balaji on GST joke in Tamil film ‘Kee’: ‘You can’t stop people from speaking their minds’

The joke about Goods and Services Tax emerged two days after the ‘Mersal’ controversy.

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.

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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.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.