The star of a hit new Indian film tackling the oppression of marginalised communities was under armed police guard Thursday after threats of violence.
“Jai Bhim” is a legal drama based on the true story of an activist lawyer fighting for a tribal woman whose husband was wrongly arrested and killed in police custody in 1993.
The movie is the latest to highlight the plight of India’s millions of tribal people and low-caste Dalits — “untouchables” — at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.
The film, released on Amazon Prime, has received rave reviews and unusually for a Tamil-language movie has been successful right across the vast country of 22 official languages.
“Jai Bhim” was briefly the highest-ranked film on movie database IMDb — owned by Amazon — beating Hollywood classics such as “The Godfather” and “The Shawshank Redemption”.
But it has also angered many people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu where it is set, in particular the Vanniyar caste community who say that the film portrays them in a bad light.
Vanniyar Sangam, a body representing the community, has issued a legal notice to the filmmakers seeking damages and demanding the removal of certain scenes.
A member of a local political party even offered 100,000 rupees ($1,340) to anyone who physically attacks the main actor Saravanan Sivakumar, better known as Suriya, who is also the film’s co-producer.
Police have since opened an investigation into the politician, and Suriya’s home in Chennai is now guarded by five armed officers and the actor — a major star in Tamil cinema — has additional security when he travels.
This and other threats to Suriya have prompted an outpouring of support for the actor, with the hashtag #WeStandWithSuriya trending on social media.
“Can’t express in words how thankful I am for the trust & reassurance you all have given us,” the 46-year-old said on Twitter.
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 Sivakumar (@Suriya_offl) November 17, 2021