In a State where the film-politics nexus has run deep since the 1940s, charismatic actors have often been crowd pullers for political parties. “Thambi vaa, un mugathai kaattu, athu pothum enakku (brother, just come on stage and show your face; that's enough for me),” Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader C. N. Annadurai had famously said of legendary actor-turned-politician M. G. Ramachandran. But with every election the campaign stars change.

If in the 2011 Assembly election it was the Tamil comedian Vadivel who hogged the limelight, campaigning for the DMK, three years down the line he is hardly seen in public. The DMK’s electoral drubbing then and the professional rivalry with Desiya Murpokku Dravdia Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijayakant took a heavy toll on Vadivel’s career that the DMK is now content with a modest team of film stars to campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Vadivel’s raw and instant wit did attract crowds, but did not translate into votes. “Except that people turned up in large numbers to watch him, the DMK could not reap any benefit from his campaign. In the Lok Sabha elections, the DMK has a few actors now hitting the campaign trail. The party must have realised the futility of using the services of stars as campaigners,” said Subagunarajan, editor of a film magazine Kaatchi Pizhai.

While the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has roped in over 20 actors for this election, the DMK’s star power, limited to actor Kushboo, fades in comparison. Vagai Chandrasekar, an old DMK face, who had even contested elections on the DMK ticket, is campaigning for the party along with small-time comedians and actors such as Kumari Muthu and Vasu Vikram.

However, the AIADMK has packed its campaigners’ list with names like actor-turned-politician R. Ramarajan, comedians Senthil, Singamuthu and Gundu Kalyanam, besides actress Vindhya, a popular star of yesteryear ‘Vennira Aadai’ Nirmala, and noted artiste C.R. Saraswathi. Another very popular star, Sarath Kumar, who heads a political party, All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi, is also campaigning for the AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, though more as a politician and an MLA.

“The DMK has only bitter experience when it comes to promoting film personalities. Both actor Vijayakant and T. Rajendar have benefited immensely by the DMK, but subsequently turned against the party. Whether it is S.S. Chandran or Radha Ravi, they made use of the party organisation and contributed nothing in return,” said poet and film director Ilyabharathi, who was also the member-secretary of the ‘Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram’ during the DMK regime.

Mr. Subagunarajan reasoned that the AIADMK had more film stars as campaigners as they fill a gap in the absence of good second line speakers in the party. But “the DMK has a lot of second-line leaders, who are equally good speakers,” he said. Popular comedienne Manorama created a sensation before the 1996 General Election with her campaign for the AIADMK against actor Rajinikant who had blessed the DMK-TMC combine then. But such robust mix of humour and triumphalist rhetoric has become a rarity now. Yet, the star-studded show helps keep alive the connect between leaders and masses in the political landscape.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National