Movie censorship

‘Mersal’ row has Tamil film industry worried: ‘We don’t know what to depict in our films now’

The Bharatiya Janata Party has raised objections to scenes in ‘Mersal’ that criticise the Goods and Services Tax and the Digital India Mission.

Last week, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Tamil Nadu demanded the deletion of scenes critical of the Narendra Modi government’s policies from the recently released Tamil film Mersal. This demand has sent waves of alarm through the Tamil film industry, since Mersal has already been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification.

The much-awaited October 18 release, starring screen icon Vijay in three roles and exploring medical malpractices, includes a two-and-a-half minute sequence in which one of Vijay’s characters criticises the Goods and Services Tax. Vijay’s character asks why a country with a GST rate of 28% is unable to provide quality healthcare to its citizens. The character also makes a reference to the Gorakhpur tragedy in September, in which at least 63 children died in a government hospital due to lack of oxygen supply.

In Singapore, free healthcare is provided to residents despite a tax levy of just 7%, the character says. There is also a scene that is critical of the Digital India Mission.

The BJP claimed that Mersal was spreading false information about the Centre’s policies. “We have made our point clear that whatever has been told in the dialogue with regard to GST is just falsehood,” BJP leader H Raja told Scroll.in. “This falsehood should not remain in the movie.”

Censorship after certification

After coming under attack, Mersal’s producers initially offered to delete the scenes from the film. In a press statement, the head Sri Thenandal Films, Hema Rukmini, said, “The controversies that have arisen over the last few days have caused us a great deal of heartache. The movie Mersal is not against anyone, nor does it portray any views against the government. ‘Medical care for the common man’ is the core of the film...We are willing to remove scenes or messages that may be seen as misleading or which might create misunderstanding.” However, after gathering immense support from Tamil film personalities and social media, Sri Thenandal Films decided to retain the scenes.

The significance of a demand for censorship from a party that has formed the central government has not been not lost on the Tamil film industry.

“Suddenly, the BJP is behaving very authoritative and saying that some dialogues should be removed,” said film producer Dhananjayan Govind. “But we already have a censor board to look into what should be cut. What has happened to the freedom of expression?”

Govind agreed with the BJP leaders on their objections to Mersal. “How can you compare India’s policies with Singapore without really understanding how money is collected in Singapore?” Govind said. It was the tone of the party’s communication that was objectionable, he added: “It was very authoritative. It was not a debate. You can always say that factually incorrect opinions are shared in the film, and debate about it. But they were acting as an external authority by demanding that the dialogues should be removed.”

BJP and the film industry

SR Prabhu, producer and treasurer of the industry body Nadigar Sangam, said that once a film has been certified for a release, no one else should raise objections.

Prabhu, however, was resigned to the fact that such controversies were unavoidable. “Every now and then there will be reactions and counter reactions to every big film,” he said. Since cinema and politics have been running on parallel lines in Tamil Nadu for the past 60 years or more, with chief ministers emerging from the film industry, there was bound to be political interference. “How will you split the film industry from politics?” he asked.

Other filmmakers find the repeated tendency to object to released films by all parties to be worrisome. “It is like we have no freedom, we don’t know what to depict in our films now,” said Suresh Sangaiah, director of the satirical Tamil film Oru Kaidiyin Karunai Manu. “Today we are speaking against the BJP’s demand to censor the film, and many political parties are supporting the industry. But tomorrow, if we depict something against another political party, they may turn against us too.”

Govind believed that the fact that BJP leaders raised objections was significant, in spite of the fact that the party was not in power in Tamil Nadu. “If any other party had raised objections, people may not have bothered so much,” said Govind. “But they are in power at the Centre and if they want, they can completely sideline the people of Tamil Nadu. If this is allowed to go on, they’ll completely control us. People in the industry are fearful about how they’ll use power, based on the example of Mersal.”

Identity politics

Ever since the previous chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, 2016, the BJP has been attempting to make inroads into the state. Screen legend Rajinikanth has often been touted as a possible BJP ally. But this week, the popular actor posted an enigmatic tweet about Mersal, declaring that the film addressed an “important topic”.

BJP members, meanwhile, resorted to other measures to attack the film. Leader H Raja put up a picture of Vijay’s voter identity card, which spells out his full name, Joseph Vijay. Raja speculated that Vijay’s Christian faith was the reason behind a line in Mersal, which states that hospitals are more important than temples.

“It was unfortunate that they tried to bring religion into this,” director Suresh Sangaiah said.

There has been a clear attempt to vitiate the atmosphere in Tamil Nadu, said Karthick Ram Manoharan, an assistant professor at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata. But this will not work in Tamil Nadu since the mainstream political discourse does not, and cannot, have a xenophobic approach to Christians, Manoharan observed.

The fandom revolving around Tamil actors has its share of problems, but it remains inclusive. “The fans look for certain popular and populist messages in cinema, free from communal overtones,” Manoharan said. In this case, both the actor’s fans as well as the general Tamil public have used social media to parody the BJP’s attempts to attack Vijay’s religious identity.

“The Hindu right is trying to create demons where none exist,” Manoharan said. “Focusing on Vijay’s Christian identity and trying to score a point against him will only backfire against them, given Tamil Nadu’s secular ethos.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.