Sarkar, the AR Murugadoss directorial with Vijay in the lead, released on November 6 for Deepavali. While the film is running to packed houses in Tamil Nadu, it has succeeded in upsetting the AIADMK, the ruling party in the state. From alleging that the film defames their party to demanding that "controversial" scenes be axed from it and even claiming that the director must be booked for sedition, the AIADMK is up in arms over Sarkar.
Their main opposition to the movie stems out of the fact that it has been produced by Sun Pictures, owned by Kalanithi Maran, grand nephew of former DMK President late M Karunanidhi and son of DMK leader late Murasoli Maran.
Sarkar is about Sundar Ramasamy, an NRI and CEO of a top American company, who comes to his home country to cast his vote for the state elections. But to his shock, he finds that someone else has illegally cast his vote. Sundar decides to go to court, employing section 49-P of the Conduct of Election Rules which allows a person to cast their vote if someone else has done it in their name illegally. Sundar ends up locking horns with three time Chief Minister Masilamani (Pala Karuppiah), his second in command Malarvannan (Radha Ravi), and Masilamani's daughter Komalavalli (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar).
Komalavalli is believed to be the original name of Jayalalithaa, late Tamil Nadu CM and former leader of the AIADMK. While Komalavalli, an antagonist in Sarkar, dresses in modern clothes when she lives in Canada, she sports a hair bun and wears sarees when she comes to Tamil Nadu to help her father retain power. While one can say that the style resembles Jayalalithaa, female politicians on screen have often been styled in a similar fashion.
Since the film is about voting rights, it berates citizens who sell their votes for cash. It also decries the practice of politicians giving freebies for votes.
In one scene, members of the public who support Sundar can be seen burning freebies, with AR Murugadoss himself making a cameo and throwing a mixie away. It is perhaps this scene that Law Minister CV Shanmugam was referring to when he spoke to mediapersons in Kanchipuram on Wednesday.
"Under the guise of acting in a film, the schemes and objectives of the government have been criticised. A scene has been shown where it (the scheme) has been burnt. This has been done like a terrorist inciting violence. Lawful action should be taken. Conspirators have been working for a while now not just in India, but even in Tamil Nadu. We suspect that he (Vijay) is connected to them. Therefore my opinion is that lawful action should be taken on him, the producer, and the theatres that have exhibited the film," he said.
Free mixies and grinders was a freebie scheme J Jayalalithaa introduced in 2011.
Other politically loaded scenes
Among the pivotal incidents in the film is that of a family setting themselves on fire in front of the Collector's office due to harassment from loan sharks - a true life incident which took place in Thirunelveli in October last year. One of the children in the family is saved and Sundar says that her half-burnt face is a metaphor for describing the state of Tamil Nadu and that it's his mission to mend it.
Sarkar also has Radha Ravi speaking about how his party has created the brand of their leader by putting his photo everywhere, so much so that people will vote for his face no matter who the actual candidate is. The people from Masilamani's party are shown wearing shirts with transparent pockets that reveal their leader's photo - a dig at the practice among AIADMK party members who keep Jayalalithaa's photo in their pocket.
The rush to have Masilamani sworn in as CM, the party applying pressure on the governor to side with them, are reminiscent of the late night political dramas that the state has witnessed in the past few years.
There's also another scene which may have annoyed the AIADMK - when Sundar attends the 'party merger' of Masilamani's party with the opposition party (possibly inspired by the EPS and OPS factions), he gives Masilamani a list of district-wise demands from the people. The latter is dismissive of these demands and says that he wants to keep the people hungry and miserable so they take money and vote for him. Sundar, however, reminds him that the people too are capable of fighting back with just one word - jallikattu. The jallikattu protests in 2017 left the AIADMK red-faced, with the people clearly expressing their discontent with the state government's inability to stand up to the centre for their rights.
Yet another scene which reminds the audience of events in the state is one where Sundar goes to file his nomination papers. He makes it clear that his nomination papers cannot be rejected on any grounds and that there was no use in trying to intimidate the 10 people who'd proposed his name since he had plenty more who'd come forward. The scene is possibly a reference to actor Vishal's failed attempt to contest in the RK Nagar bye-election. His nomination was rejected twice.
The lathi charge against the common people by the police may bring back memories of the police action in Thoothukudi earlier this year.
A statement by Kazhaga Amma Peravai, an outfit of the AIADMK represented by TN Revenue Minister RB Udayakumar, condemned the film for bringing taint upon the image of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa by criticising the schemes introduced during her tenure. Passing a resolution to this effect, the outfit detailed the various schemes that bettered the lives of women, students and families in the state.
Daring the makers of the film, the statement asks, "Can Sun Pictures show DMK leader Karunanidhi in such scenes? Not just that, we are ready to debate on Amma's schemes, are you also ready?"
In keen self-awareness, the statement concedes that the scene is fictitious.
"Sarkar, a film made by Maran brothers of Sun Pictures with business motives brings taint upon the image of Amma. An imaginary scene has been portrayed to bring taint upon someone who is worshipped as God by Tamils all over the world."
RB Udayakumar's Kazhaga Amma Peravai has asked for the scene to be deleted from the film, failing which the statement threatens 'revenge' with the permission of its headquarters. The resolution of this outfit also adds that they would protect the image of Jayalalithaa at all costs, even if comes at the cost of giving their own lives for it.
Although Sarkar has such references to present day politics, films like NOTA (starring Vijay Deverakonda) and Tamizh Padam 2 (starring Shiva) have been way more direct in their criticism of the state government. From Jayalalithaa's statue to the Dharmapuri bus burning incident (it's a child who dies in the film), from resort politics to flood relief materials being stopped because they don't have the leader's photo on it, NOTA was far more scathing in its depiction.
Tamizh Padam 2 had scenes making fun of the high drama in the state after Jayalalithaa's demise, including O Panneerselvam meditating before Jayalalithaa's samadhi on Marina beach.
However, neither of these films attracted the kind of attention that Vijay's Sarkar has grabbed. The backlash is mainly because Kalanithi Maran has produced the film and the fact that Vijay is said to harbour political ambitions. His last film, Mersal, also invited the wrath of politicians, with the BJP going hammer and tongs at the actor for dialogues that mocked demonetisation and GST. The BJP's H Raja had also stressed on Vijay's full name - Joseph Vijay - to underline that he was against the central government because of his religion. The tactic, however, backfired and H Raja was widely slammed in the state.