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Posted at: Jan 8, 2018, 12:45 AM; last updated: Jan 8, 2018, 12:49 AM (IST)CINEMA & POLITICS

Power pledge of demigods

The star as the saviour
Politics and cinema may seem to make strange bedfellows. However, nothing stops them from courting each other. Superstar Rajinikanth also takes a political plunge. Will he be able to translate his starry aura into votes? Nonika Singh explores the possibility.

Politics has been one of the options for ageing stars. So when South’s demigod Rajinikanth made his intentions clear on the New Year Eve, few were taken aback. For one, it was in the works for a long time and, secondly in the south, especially Tamil Nadu, it is rather smooth for film-stars to make the transition to politics.

In the rest of the country, political parties try to encash the star charisma and fan following of a Hema Malini or a Dharmendra or the late Vinod Khanna. But in the south, the ballgame is remarkably different. The rise and reign of MGR and Jayalalithaa are case studies in how politics and cinema can coexist and how fan clubs can translate into enduring political bases. Many other politicians in the South have had their moorings in cinema. NT Rama Rao ruled in as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms and Tamil Nadu CM C.N. Annadurai used regional cinema for political propaganda. M. Karunanidhi, five -time CM of Tamil Nadu, is called Kalaignar (artist) for his powerful film scripts.

In 1991, when Jayalalithaa became chief minister she turned into a Caesar and her aide Sasikala Natarajan, the high priestess. They behaved like the East India Company, slowly colonizing Tamil Nadu. The state’s public life sank to new lows. MGR was a ‘great influence’ on Jayalalithaa. Yet, she had imbibed none of his selflessness or greatness. — ‘MGR: A Life’ by R Kannan, penguin books, 2017
Dravidian politics, in fact, is like no other in the country nor is their cinema that thrives on cult culture and mindboggling hero worship. Therefore to equate Rajinikanth’s foray into politics with that of a Raj Babbar or even the failed political innings of yet another matinee idol Amitabh Bachchan would be erroneous.

Undeniably, when it comes to star power the adulation heaped upon Rajinikanth is unmatched. The frenzy his films whip up finds few parallels even in an otherwise cinema-crazy nation. Indeed, Rajni’s stupendous cinematic success does not automatically guarantee political triumph. MGR may have straddled both politics and cinema simultaneously, but it was spurred by long slogs in the interiors, film scripts that equated him with the ideal Tamil man padded by charity work. Behind, Jayalalithaa’s metamorphosis from a heroine living under the shadow of MGR into a powerful mother figure Amma rests solid hard work preceded by an intensive tutelage by MGR. Rajnikanth who has played the reel champion of the underdog to the hilt time and again too can possibly emulate these success stories. Or he might not because questions are already being asked about his political idiom which many fear right now is nebulous if not misplaced.

Indeed, like his cocky avatar onscreen he is being rather presumptuous when he proclaims, I will launch a new party and contest from 234 constituencies across Tamil Nadu in the coming election. His speech marked by bravado and chutzpah that so defines his characters on the silver screen is driven by hyperbole, I don’t want party men, but guards. Guards, who will ensure that benefits and rights reach the common man. Alas, political revolution doesn’t come through spiffy dialogues alone.

Naan eppo varuven eppadi varuvennu yarukkum theriyathu. Eppo varunumo appo correctaa varuven (No one can say when or how I’ll come, but I will come at the right time), he thundered in Muthu. Is it the right time? Is he the change Tamil Nadu politics currently in flux and desperate to fill the void created by the demise of Jayalalithaa and ailing Karunanidhi? The questions are too many. So are the answers and opinions.

Political pundits feel that Rajinikanth missed the bus some 20 years ago when he enjoyed far greater political clout. It is widely believed that his rather condescending remarks against Jayalalithaa ensured her electoral wipeout in 1996. Thereafter his influence on the electorate has been wavering if not completely missing. Can his star status outweigh the obvious disadvantages which his non-Tamil origins and his religious bent pose?

Certainly Rajni would know that flipping cigarettes onscreen and winning the confidence of voters is not the same. As a first step he has launched a website and a mobile app to enroll members for his party and decided to consolidate his registered and non registered fan clubs. More important signal comes from his meeting the DMK patriarch, M Karunanidhi whose party incidentally he will be fighting against in the ensuing assembly elections. His detractors think he will meet the same fate as yet another famous actor Sivaji Ganeshan, known as the Marlon Brando of Tamil cinema.

Those eager to dismiss Rajnikanth’s political ambitions as the product of media hype need to understand that he is no political lightweight. His is not a token entry, as is evident from the sharp, even acerbic reactions, that are coming in. Subramaniam Swamy mocked the superstar and his }illiterate credentials; Comrade Sitaram Yechury is taking potshots at his brand of politics which Thelavuur himself has dubbed as spiritual politics. The use of the epithet spiritual has triggered a debate in itself and many see the birthing of right wing politics in a state that has traditionally voted for atheist Dravadian parties DMK and AIDMK. And all this fuss before he has announced the name of the political party he intends to float.

To borrow a cliché, time alone will tell. At this moment he seems to have plenty at hand for assembly elections in the state are due in 2021 which is when his political alchemy and mettle will be truly tested. From abhineta Rajinikanth to neta Rajinikanth, it’s not going to be a simple equation of another image makeover. Invincible on screen…but to be unconquerable in politics he would require far more than borrowing wisdom from Bhagwad Gita. For in the karambhoomi of politics foes are well foes but you never know when friends can turn foes. And we are not just talking of Kamal Haasan whose political aspirations became known a few months ago and who has welcomed brother Rajini’s entry into politics rather effusively. Within every diehard cinemaholic always lurks a potential political baiter.

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