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Politician Offers ‘Reward’ For Attack On Actor: The Indian Film ‘Jai Bhim’ And #IStandWithSurya Controversy Explained

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 17, 2021

Topline

Despite being hailed by critics as one of the most important socio-political Indian films of the year, the Tamil movie Jai Bhim has been at the center of major controversy in India for its depiction of systemic caste injustices in Tamil society, prompting both intense support and violent threats against the film’s lead actor and its creators.

Key Facts

Jai Bhim’s plot is based on a real-life incident from the 1990s, when members of the marginalized Irula tribe were falsely accused of theft and arrested, and after one of the detainees died in police custody a lengthy legal battle for justice followed.

The film’s portrayal of discrimination—hailed by critics and progressive groups—has triggered strong opposition from the Vanniyar Sangam, members of the dominant Vanniya Kula Kshatriya caste of Tamil Nadu.

The Vanniyars claim that the film hurts their community’s sentiments and portrays them inappropriately, prompting them to issue a legal notice to all the people involved with Jai Bhim, and has sought Rs 50 million (about $67,000) in damages.

Just a day before initiating legal action, members of a Vanniyar-led political party (Pattali Makkal Katchi, or PMK) stormed a theater in Mayiladuthurai, to stop a film screening, and the district’s secretary even offered a Rs 100,000 (about $1,300) reward to anyone willing to attack Suriya Sivakumar, the star of the movie. 

Suriya Sivakumar—the film’s protagonist and one of the most popular actors in Tamil cinema, known mostly by his first name—has been the target of a majority of the criticism and violent threats, which has led to him receiving police protection.

But the actor has managed to garner support from members of the Tamil film community and his fans, who took to Twitter to trend #WeStandWithSuriya on Tuesday.

Crucial Quote

“Dear all, this love for #Jaibhim is overwhelming. I’ve never witnessed this before! Can’t express in words how thankful I am for the trust & reassurance you all have given us. Heartfelt thanks for standing by us,”  Suriya tweeted on Wednesday.

Chief Critic

National Award-winning Tamil director Vetrimaran backed Suriya in a Twitter statement on Tuesday and criticized the opponents of the film for not wanting to see a change in the status quo. He wrote: “The commitment of director T. J. Gnanavel to make this film to let the world know the plight of the victims and Suriya’s constant efforts towards social justice, on and offscreen is truly inspiring. #Jaibheem. It’s only natural these films cause angst among those who don’t want the status quo to change…Films that question the inequalities and injustices of a society too are weapons towards social justice.”

Key Background

Supporters have argued Suriya and the makers of Jai Bhim are being unfairly targeted for speaking up on a critical social justice issue. The film has found backing from Tamil Nadu state’s governing party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), with chief minister MK Stalin praising Suriya and the film. In a statement released earlier this month, Stalin wrote: “Great art should make an impact on the audience and bring about a positive change in society…I watched my friend Suriya’s Jai Bhim…It has had a huge impact on me.” However, the leader of the opposition PMK party, Dr. Ambumani Ramadoss, contends Suriya and the film have deliberately chosen to offend the upper-caste Vanniyar community. Stating that “oppression cannot be accepted and everyone should fight against it,” Ramadoss alleges the film chooses to deliberately portray the Vanniyars as the villains of the plot and accuses the film’s creators of altering specific elements of the story to do so. The DMK and PMK’s opposite stances on the films have prompted speculation both parties are unlikely to form a political alliance in the near future. Tamil Nadu’s other major political party and the DMK’s primary rival, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), have so far made no comments on the film or the controversy surrounding it. The AIADMK was Tamil Nadu’s governing party when the events portrayed in the film took place. Jai Bhim was released earlier this month in theaters and on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform.

Further Reading

‘Love for Jai Bhim overwhelming’: Suriya thanks people for support amid threats (News Minute)

#WeStandWithSuriya trends on Twitter after Vanniyar Sangam sends legal notice over Jai Bhim row (India Today)

Jai Bhim to Maadathy: Anti-caste Tamil films and where to watch them (News Minute)

Jai Bhim review: Suriya’s most powerful drama yet (Indian Express)

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