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'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

The film 'Jai Bhim,' that unveiled the injustice faced by Irular tribes, has been mired in controversy.

Updated
Explainers
7 min read
'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
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Jai Bhim has been considered by film critics as one of the most important socio-political Tamil movies to have come out in 2021, that unveiled the systemic injustices and cruelties that the communities marginalised by caste are subjected to in Tamil Nadu.

The plot is based on a real life incident from 1993 and the legal battle that followed after. In Jai Bhim, Rajakannu from the Irular tribe is wrongly accused of theft, arrested and beaten brutally, he finally dies in police custody. The police tries to cover up the truth which sets off his wife, Sengeni, on a quest for justice, with the aid of advocate Chandru. The film delves into the appalling treatment of people from the community, who are often framed by the police, subjected to torture and do not have even basic government documentations.

While Jai Bhim was appreciated widely, it has been mired in controversy. Actor Suriya Sivakumar was provided with police protection on 16 November, at his residence in Chennai's T Nagar following intel reports of threats.

Here is all that has happened since the release of the film:

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

  1. 1. The Film Overtakes ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ & ‘The Godfather’ in IMDb Rating

    Tamil actor Suriya’s film Jai Bhim was released on 2 November on Amazon Prime Video in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. The actor donned a never-seen-before role in the powerful courtroom drama.

    Currently, Jai Bhim’s IMDb rating is 9.6 with 73k votes and 'The Shawshank Redemption’s' rating is 9.3 with 2.5 million votes.

    The title of the film translates to, ‘Long Live Bhim’, a slogan popularised by followers of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. BR Ambedkar was the chief architect of India’s constitution and also the country’s first law minister.

    The film is directed by TJ Gnanavel and produced by actor Suriya.

    Since it was released on the online platform, there’s no box-office collection for the same. With ratings from the audience and critics, the film has been propelled to the number one slot online.

    Expand
  2. 2. The Slap Scene That Triggered the Anti-Hindi Debate

    The first controversy that erupted was around the scene where actor Prakash Raj's character, a cop, slaps a man for 'speaking in Hindi'. Raj asks the person to speak in Tamil. A section of people on social media criticised the scene for propagating an ‘anti-Hindi’ agenda.

    However, another section of Twitter users said that Prakash Raj's character slapped the person who was speaking in Hindi despite knowing Tamil because the latter was sidestepping difficult questions by speaking in Hindi.

    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

    Prakash Raj, on 7 November, responded to the controversy and said that the outrage ‘exposes the agenda’ of those criticising it. Speaking to News9, he said, “After watching a film like Jai Bhim, they did not see the agony of the tribal people, they did not see and feel terrible about the injustice, but they only saw the slap. That is all they understood. This exposes their agenda.”

    Expand
  3. 3. 'Jai Bhim' Conceptualises Vanniyars Inappropriately: PMK

    Despite being widely celebrated, the makers of the film were slammed for hurting the sentiments of the Vanniyars who form a dominant caste segment in Tamil Nadu.

    On 10 November, PMK chief Dr Ambumani Ramadoss wrote a letter posing a series of questions about Jai Bhim.

    Ramadoss said in a statement that in a scene in the film, an 'Agni Kundam' (a pot of fire), a symbol of Vanniyars, was seen printed on a calendar in the residence of the policeman, who tortures Rajakannu.

    The PMK leader also added that Jai Bhim had retained original names for most characters but the name of the sub-inspector, who had beaten the man from the Irular community to death, was changed to Gurumoorthy, reminding people of late PMK leader J Guru. The officer in the real case was called Anthonysamy.

    Ramadoss alleged that many films are being made to insult the Vanniyar community and that this is not freedom of expression but hatred towards one particular community.

    Anbumani said, "Regardless of who is involved, when repression is unleashed on people it is not acceptable and we all will fight together against it."

    Expand
  4. 4. No Intention to Seek Publicity by Insulting Anyone: Suriya

    Exactly a day after Anbumani's letter, Suriya gave a scathing reply to the PMK leader in which he affirmed that neither he nor his film unit had any intention of insulting any individual or community.

    "The core concept of Jai Bhim is how, in a case argued by the retired Justice Chandru, a legal struggle was waged against the authorities to help establish justice. We have also attempted to talk about the problems that indigenous people face in their everyday lives," he said in a statement.

    "Neither my team, nor I have ever harboured any intention at any point in time to insult any individual or community as mentioned by you in your letter. I hope you are aware that corrections were carried out as soon as some people pointed out mistakes."
    Actor Suriya

    He explained that a film wasn't a documentary and agreed with Dr Ramadoss's statement that the right to insult any community had not been given to anyone under the garb of creative freedom. "In the same spirit, I believe you too will accept that creative freedom must be protected from threats," the statement read.

    "When people who are not interested in the welfare of the poor gain authority, they tend to behave in exactly the same manner, irrespective of their caste, religion, language or region. Through this film, we have raised questions against authority. I request you to not confine it to politics over names," Suriya said.

    The actor added that he didn't need to insult anybody for the sake of publicity.

    Expand
  5. 5. PMK Cadre Barge Into TN Theatre, Stop Screening of Suriya Film

    The stand-off between the political outfit and actor Suriya escalated on 14 November, when a group of PMK cadres barged into a theatre in Mayiladuthurai district in Tamil Nadu and forcibly stopped the screening of Jai Bhim.

    The district secretary Panneerselvam had announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for anyone who will attack Suriya when he visits the district.

    The next day, on 15 November, the Vanniyar Sangam state president issued a legal notice to actor Suriya and TJ Gnanavel, demanding that the makers of the film tender an unconditional apology and remove scenes which they dubbed defamatory. The legal notice also asked those behind the film to “cease and desist from making or publishing any false, malicious and defamatory remarks against (the Vanniyar) community and its people.” They also demanded Rs 5 crore as compensation for "denigrating the community".

    The Tamil Nadu police on 17 November booked Pannerselvam under five sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This includes non-bailable sections.

    Expand
  6. 6. #WeStandWithSuriya Trends on Twitter

    Meanwhile, support has been pouring in for Suriya and the makers of Jai Bhim.

    Director Vetri Maaran of Asuran and Vada Chennai fame tweeted, "It's only natural these films cause angst amongst those who don't want the status quo to change. #WeStandWithSuriya."

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss to refrain from criticising the actor over his film <em>Jai Bhim</em>. In a letter to Ramadoss, South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce President Katragadda Prasad pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.</p></div>

    The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss to refrain from criticising the actor over his film Jai Bhim. In a letter to Ramadoss, South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce President Katragadda Prasad pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.

    The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked the PMK leader to refrain from criticising Suriya over his film Jai Bhim. In a letter to Ramadoss, Chamber's president, Katragadda Prasad, pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.

    Actor Siddharth tweeted, "We stood with Kamal Haasan. We stood with Vijay. We stand with Suriya. "We" represents anyone who believes it is cowardice to threaten an artist or the exhibition of an artistic creation over differences of opinion or personal animosity." I stand with the makers of #JaiBhim".

    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

    Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) founder Thol Thirumavalavan appreciated the film. Suriya responded that he was happy that the VCK was continuously fighting for tribals, who are a minority in Tamil Nadu.

    “As you have said, we are happy that Chief Minister MK Stalin has taken immediate action on the long-term problems faced by tribals.

    The reason for making Jai Bhim is to shed light on their problems and bringing them under the spotlight is possible only through art. Only government and political movements can create actual social change,” he said.

    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

    Actor Suriya on Sunday issued a statement that he has deposited Rs 10 lakh to the wife of Rajakannu.

    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

    The actor tweeted on 17 November thanking his fans for their "overwhelming" support.

    "Dear all, this love for Jai Bhim is overwhelming. I've never witnessed this before! Can't express in words how thankful I am for the trust and reassurance you all have given us. Heartfelt thanks for standing by us," he wrote.

    'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Film Overtakes ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ & ‘The Godfather’ in IMDb Rating

Tamil actor Suriya’s film Jai Bhim was released on 2 November on Amazon Prime Video in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. The actor donned a never-seen-before role in the powerful courtroom drama.

Currently, Jai Bhim’s IMDb rating is 9.6 with 73k votes and 'The Shawshank Redemption’s' rating is 9.3 with 2.5 million votes.

The title of the film translates to, ‘Long Live Bhim’, a slogan popularised by followers of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. BR Ambedkar was the chief architect of India’s constitution and also the country’s first law minister.

The film is directed by TJ Gnanavel and produced by actor Suriya.

Since it was released on the online platform, there’s no box-office collection for the same. With ratings from the audience and critics, the film has been propelled to the number one slot online.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Slap Scene That Triggered the Anti-Hindi Debate

The first controversy that erupted was around the scene where actor Prakash Raj's character, a cop, slaps a man for 'speaking in Hindi'. Raj asks the person to speak in Tamil. A section of people on social media criticised the scene for propagating an ‘anti-Hindi’ agenda.

However, another section of Twitter users said that Prakash Raj's character slapped the person who was speaking in Hindi despite knowing Tamil because the latter was sidestepping difficult questions by speaking in Hindi.

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

Prakash Raj, on 7 November, responded to the controversy and said that the outrage ‘exposes the agenda’ of those criticising it. Speaking to News9, he said, “After watching a film like Jai Bhim, they did not see the agony of the tribal people, they did not see and feel terrible about the injustice, but they only saw the slap. That is all they understood. This exposes their agenda.”

'Jai Bhim' Conceptualises Vanniyars Inappropriately: PMK

Despite being widely celebrated, the makers of the film were slammed for hurting the sentiments of the Vanniyars who form a dominant caste segment in Tamil Nadu.

On 10 November, PMK chief Dr Ambumani Ramadoss wrote a letter posing a series of questions about Jai Bhim.

Ramadoss said in a statement that in a scene in the film, an 'Agni Kundam' (a pot of fire), a symbol of Vanniyars, was seen printed on a calendar in the residence of the policeman, who tortures Rajakannu.

The PMK leader also added that Jai Bhim had retained original names for most characters but the name of the sub-inspector, who had beaten the man from the Irular community to death, was changed to Gurumoorthy, reminding people of late PMK leader J Guru. The officer in the real case was called Anthonysamy.

Ramadoss alleged that many films are being made to insult the Vanniyar community and that this is not freedom of expression but hatred towards one particular community.

Anbumani said, "Regardless of who is involved, when repression is unleashed on people it is not acceptable and we all will fight together against it."

ADVERTISEMENT

No Intention to Seek Publicity by Insulting Anyone: Suriya

Exactly a day after Anbumani's letter, Suriya gave a scathing reply to the PMK leader in which he affirmed that neither he nor his film unit had any intention of insulting any individual or community.

"The core concept of Jai Bhim is how, in a case argued by the retired Justice Chandru, a legal struggle was waged against the authorities to help establish justice. We have also attempted to talk about the problems that indigenous people face in their everyday lives," he said in a statement.

"Neither my team, nor I have ever harboured any intention at any point in time to insult any individual or community as mentioned by you in your letter. I hope you are aware that corrections were carried out as soon as some people pointed out mistakes."
Actor Suriya

He explained that a film wasn't a documentary and agreed with Dr Ramadoss's statement that the right to insult any community had not been given to anyone under the garb of creative freedom. "In the same spirit, I believe you too will accept that creative freedom must be protected from threats," the statement read.

"When people who are not interested in the welfare of the poor gain authority, they tend to behave in exactly the same manner, irrespective of their caste, religion, language or region. Through this film, we have raised questions against authority. I request you to not confine it to politics over names," Suriya said.

The actor added that he didn't need to insult anybody for the sake of publicity.

PMK Cadre Barge Into TN Theatre, Stop Screening of Suriya Film

The stand-off between the political outfit and actor Suriya escalated on 14 November, when a group of PMK cadres barged into a theatre in Mayiladuthurai district in Tamil Nadu and forcibly stopped the screening of Jai Bhim.

The district secretary Panneerselvam had announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for anyone who will attack Suriya when he visits the district.

The next day, on 15 November, the Vanniyar Sangam state president issued a legal notice to actor Suriya and TJ Gnanavel, demanding that the makers of the film tender an unconditional apology and remove scenes which they dubbed defamatory. The legal notice also asked those behind the film to “cease and desist from making or publishing any false, malicious and defamatory remarks against (the Vanniyar) community and its people.” They also demanded Rs 5 crore as compensation for "denigrating the community".

The Tamil Nadu police on 17 November booked Pannerselvam under five sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This includes non-bailable sections.

ADVERTISEMENT

#WeStandWithSuriya Trends on Twitter

Meanwhile, support has been pouring in for Suriya and the makers of Jai Bhim.

Director Vetri Maaran of Asuran and Vada Chennai fame tweeted, "It's only natural these films cause angst amongst those who don't want the status quo to change. #WeStandWithSuriya."

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss to refrain from criticising the actor over his film <em>Jai Bhim</em>. In a letter to Ramadoss, South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce President Katragadda Prasad pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.</p></div>

The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss to refrain from criticising the actor over his film Jai Bhim. In a letter to Ramadoss, South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce President Katragadda Prasad pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.

The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on 15 November asked the PMK leader to refrain from criticising Suriya over his film Jai Bhim. In a letter to Ramadoss, Chamber's president, Katragadda Prasad, pointed out that Suriya had acceded to his request for removal of a symbol from the film.

Actor Siddharth tweeted, "We stood with Kamal Haasan. We stood with Vijay. We stand with Suriya. "We" represents anyone who believes it is cowardice to threaten an artist or the exhibition of an artistic creation over differences of opinion or personal animosity." I stand with the makers of #JaiBhim".

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?
'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) founder Thol Thirumavalavan appreciated the film. Suriya responded that he was happy that the VCK was continuously fighting for tribals, who are a minority in Tamil Nadu.

“As you have said, we are happy that Chief Minister MK Stalin has taken immediate action on the long-term problems faced by tribals.

The reason for making Jai Bhim is to shed light on their problems and bringing them under the spotlight is possible only through art. Only government and political movements can create actual social change,” he said.

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

Actor Suriya on Sunday issued a statement that he has deposited Rs 10 lakh to the wife of Rajakannu.

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

The actor tweeted on 17 November thanking his fans for their "overwhelming" support.

"Dear all, this love for Jai Bhim is overwhelming. I've never witnessed this before! Can't express in words how thankful I am for the trust and reassurance you all have given us. Heartfelt thanks for standing by us," he wrote.

'Jai Bhim' Controversy: Why are Vanniyars Offended by Actor Suriya's Film?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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