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Can another Tamil film star dominate Tamil Nadu politics again?

Does Rajinikanth knows something that Kamal Haasan does not? It would appear to be so.

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Can another Tamil film star dominate Tamil Nadu politics again?

As focus shifts to Tamil Nadu in south in the second phase of general elections, the media glare is also on the fate of real filmy heros trying luck at the hustings.

The one question that foxes people outside Tamil Nadu is whether the state will continue to continue with its obsessive love for film star-politicians and persist with electing them as heads of government and entrust their future to them.

Of course, Tamil Nadu has seen the biggest of its film stars, MG Ramachandran, shine as a politician as also his bitter rival and scriptwriter par excellence M Karunanidhi develop into a master political strategist for whose advise national leaders came down to his house in Chennai.

But today, neither Karunanidhi or his most bitter rival J Jayalalithaa who succeeded MGR in his party AIADMK and alternated as the chief minister of the state with the DMK patriarch are present. And there appeared to be a political vacuum of sorts. So, film stars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan fancied their chances of emulating their seniors in the film industry and chart out a political career too.

For the people of rest of Tami Nadu, it remains a mystery as to how film stars get that much adulation and respect that they get elected as Chief Ministers whereas in most of India, the film stars do not count much in politics other than offering the odd “guest roles as crowd pullers” and given an MP seat or two.

So the question they wonder is : Will stars in Tamil Nadu continue to rule the roost when it comes to politics or days of film stars as Chief Ministers over in the film-crazed state. Even today in Tamil Nadu, film releases of superstars and would be superstars are celebrated with much pomp and show, song, dance, and milk abhishekams to the giant cut outs of their favourite stars.

Superstar Rajinikanth, whose followers have been floating rumours that his entry into politics and electoral battle was imminent for the past several years, has once again cried off – despite open arm welcome by the BJP that was hoping to cash in on his superstardom to strike deeper roots in the state. But, at the proverbial eleventh hour, Rajinikanth decided not to take the plunge while his contemporary as also competitor, Kamal Haasan jumped headlong into electoral politics and is fighting the general elections after floating a political party.

Does Rajinikanth knows something that Kamal Haasan does not? It would appear to be so. The profession of politics is very demanding and requires long hours and wrong hours that these actors may not be able to spend right now, felt political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan felt. And they are up against career politicians who have mastered the art and craft of caste-based politics and brook no nonsense from “political upstarts”.

Even the current day film-stars turning politicians are very different from the silver screen idols who took to politics like the proverbial ducks to water. Moreover, there is tremendous competition in the films space and there are younger heros dominating the space.

Kamal Haasan does not have even an iota of a chance, even to be a spoiler. Other than Delhi media that keeps giving him undue importance and publicity, the voters sure do not really think much of him or his politics. One reason perhaps is that he is a Brahmin by caste, which can be a serious impediment in Tamil Nadu’s caste-dominated political field.

Coming to popularity, yes, having been an actor par excellence, his award-winning roles and superstardom sure give him a leg up in terms of publicity as compared to a non-filmy entrant from a different profession. But this is where his advantage stops.

Kamal Haasan, if he thinks that there is a vacuum after the death of two towering political icons – M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa – and that he could step in on the strength of his star power and oratory, he has definitely another think coming, felt perception strategist John Arokiaswamy. Tracing the route of success of actors like MGR or Jayalalithaa or even Vijayakanth to some extent, John said “all of them entered politics full time and worked hard for several years. Vijayakanth worked hard for five years before he launched a political party and spent another five years before he became the opposition leader.”

MGR and M Karunanidhi were seeped in the Dravidian ideology and activities for many years all through their film careers and propagated the ideology through their body of work in films – MGR through acting and Karunanidhi with his powerful script-writing. “Kamal Haasan may be popular and crowds may come to see him. But the same crowds will be judging him as a politician and this is where he would be found wanting. There is a danger that people see him resorting to politics after his career in films is over,” he said.

Film stars can draw crowds, but unless they show that they mean business, it won’t work. It applies to Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan both, Prof Ramu Manivannan of Madras University said.

Why go very far. Look at neighbouring Andhra Pradesh where film stars tried their luck in politics and failed miserably.

After the god of Telugu film world, N T Rama Rao floated a political party and in just nine months ousted the grand old party, Congress from Andhra Pradesh, actors like Chiranjeevi, dubbed the mega star in Telugu film industry, floated a party and took on both the Congress and Telugu Desam party in Andhra Pradesh. He failed miserably by winning less than 10 per cent of the seats and was defeated in one of the two seats he contested. Eventually he merged his party with Congress, enjoyed power at the UPA 2 central government and then faded out.

Today if he goes out campaigning, his own brother and another superstar, Pawan Kalyan will lose votes as Andhrites see Chiranjeevi as an untrustworthy man who cheated the state. His role during bifurcation of the state came under severe criticism.

Unless, Kamal Haasan has been given a real-life role of a politician to play by some behind-the-scenes politician to cut into this or that section of the votes he may garner due to his appeal as a film star, the superstar does not have a political future in Tamil Nadu.

KV Lakshmana is a senior journalist who spent the last eight years in Chennai, covering Tamil Nadu, he writes about South India and all that it has to offer. He tweets at @kvlakshman

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