The BJP protest was soon subject to online ridicule for it was against its own government which granted permission for the shoot. Filming crews are required to take permission from government agencies if shooting on their premises and they are often also charged for it by the government. But the protest did not seem to be driven by logic. Despite police presence at the venue, the protesters insisted that it was a dangerous place, not fit for ‘such activities’.
Just a day earlier, the Income Tax Department requested Vijay to step out of his shoot at NLC and accompanied him to Chennai via road where he was questioned by the officials regarding his salary from his last film Bigil and investments into immovable properties. The sudden move came on the same day that the film’s producer, the AGS group and Tamil cinema financier Anbu Chezhiyan were also raided. Sleuths recovered Rs 77 crore in cash from the financier while no significant recoveries were made from Vijay’s residence.
However, the latest events are not without history. Vijay’s films in the recent past, barring Bigil, have run into controversy with both the BJP and the AIADMK. When Atlee directorial Mersal released in 2017, the BJP took objection to its potshots at central government policies such as Digital India, GST and demonetisation. This was when BJP’s National Secretary H Raja famously tweeted out a picture of the actor’s voter ID card, stating that his full name was Joseph Vijay. The state outfit of the national party accused Vijay of being opposed to the BJP since he was a Christian.
(A still from Vijay’s upcoming film Master)
The Income Tax department may have had its reasons to search the houses of Anbu Chezhiyan, AGS and Vijay, also considering Anbu Chezhiyan’s notoriety but the BJP clearly made the raids political. As the searches were underway, H Raja tweeted, “Those who jumped up and down when someone’s original name was said, what will become of them now? Truth is coming out one by one.”
Speaking to TNM, political analyst and senior journalist Shyam observes that the BJP’s leaderless Tamil Nadu outfit was vying for attention and was resorting to a communal agenda. “Many actors have screen names but they chose to go after Vijay by pointing to the Joseph in his name. It was very clear what they were doing— it was communal. By taking the discourse to new lows, not just Vijay fans, even the neutral folk in the state are becoming averse to the BJP,” he says.
In 2018, Vijay’s Sarkar once again upset the government. The movie, which critiqued the election freebie culture in Tamil Nadu, was perceived as an attack on the AIADMK. Leaders of the party slammed the film and cadres of the party reportedly tore posters of the actor. While the AIADMK ultimately got its way with the ‘controversial’ dialogues being sliced out, it led to offscreen imitations of the onscreen event— fans of the actor posted videos throwing away freebies, including mixers, grinders and whole TV sets, with the late AIADMK Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s face on it.
Shyam says, “Usually, IT raids itself are viewed as partisan given how the BJP has weaponized the agency in recent years. However, when it is Vijay, who commands an enormous fan following, it is not politically profitable either. It looks like the party’s internal politics— not having a leader for their unit— is playing out on the field. Each faction is vying with the other to be the loudest.”
With the latest events surrounding Master too, Vijay, normally known as a recluse, has publicly sought to play the attention to his advantage. Ever since shooting resumed after the IT searches, Vijay has come out to greet fans every day. On Sunday, hundreds of fans descended outside the NLC in Cuddalore. While policemen struggled to contain the excited fans thronging the gates of the mining area, Vijay climbed atop a van, whipped his phone out and took a selfie with the large crowd in the background— a reminder perhaps of the influence he enjoys among Tamil film audiences.