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Battle for Kollywood

Sarathkumar and Nasser vie for the most coveted position in the Tamil film industry. The writer tracks the Nadigar Sangam elections .

September 19, 2015 05:49 pm | Updated 07:32 pm IST - Chennai

The forthcoming Nadigar Sangam election is the hottest topic in the Tamil cinema industry today. The election on October 18 will determine who holds the coveted positions in the South Indian Film Artistes’ Association (SIFAA), popularly known as Nadigar Sangam. Former High Court judge, Justice E. Padmanabhan, will preside over the election, as per the Madras High Court orders.

As is only all too well-known, this election promises to be a fierce battle between two star groups in the industry: one led by the current president Sarathkumar and general secretary Radha Ravi, and the other, calling itself the Pandavar Ani, led by Nasser, Vishal, Ponvannan, Karunas and Karthi.Nadigar Sangam was formed in 1952 by actors MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, and M. R. Radha, with the support of a few others. MGR and company contributed funds and purchased 99 cents of land in Habibullah Road, T. Nagar, a prime locality in the city. It was the time when Tamil cinema — its actors and writers chiefly — played a crucial role in Dravidian politics, with DMK eventually coming into power in 1967. When MGR became the chief minister in 1977, the Nadigar Sangam constructed a new building, comprising a preview theatre, a gym and an office space. In early 2000, the association ran up a huge debt to the tune of Rs. 4.5 crore, which was cleared by the then-Nadigar Sangam president Vijayakanth, by organising a fund-raising event — a star night, as they have come to be called — in Singapore and Malaysia in 2002. Since then, the Sangam has taken to organising such industry-related events regularly.

After Vijayakanth floated his own political party, DMDK, a group of stars, notably S. Ve. Shekher, requested that active politicians not be allowed to head the Nadigar Sangam. Following this, Vijayakanth stepped down, and Sarathkumar took over as the chief in 2006. The elections are held once in three years, and during the last election in 2012, Sarathkumar was re-elected, unopposed for the third time.

Trouble, however, brewed in in November 2010 when Nadigar Sangam decided to demolish the existing building and construct a commercial complex. To this end, Nadigar Sangam signed an agreement with Sathyam Cinemas to lease out the land for 30 years. The idea was to construct a seven-storey building that would house a multiplex, with one floor allotted for the Sangam. Sathyam Cinemas was to pay a monthly rental of Rs. 26 lakhs and maintain the property. The old Nadigar Sangam building was subsequently demolished, and in 2012, a member of the association, Poochi Murugan, filed a case against Sarathkumar and Radha Ravi for not consulting other members and adhering to the required norms. As the case is still in the court, the construction work is yet to commence.

Meanwhile, actor Vishal and a few others began raising questions about the way Nadigar Sangam functioned. Sarathkumar, at that time, pointed out that the agreement would help a lot of actors who do not have a regular income, as some of them were living in appalling conditions. Vishal and his group didn’t relent and insisted that the agreement with Sathyam Cinemas be cancelled and asked for the Sangam to construct its own building.

When the 2015 election was due, Sarathkumar announced that it would be held on Wednesday, July 15. Vishal went to court, seeking a reversal of the date to a second Sunday, and also sought the appointment of a retired judge to oversee the election. Vishal and team scored a significant legal win when the Madras High Court acceded to both their pleas.

In Tamil Nadu, politicians always seek the support of leading stars in the State as they have a huge fan following. Over the years, Nadigar Sangam has made it a point to be politically correct by supporting the ruling government. Therefore, the post of the president is a coveted one, owing to the power it wields. In a way, it also acts as a springboard for actors who nurture political ambitions.

Sarathkumar says: “All during my nine-year-long tenure, the Nadigar Sangam has functioned admirably, and has repaid most of its loans. Most members are aware of this, though not all of them will admit to this in public. The other group, however, is indulging in some wrong practices, as it intends to win the election at any cost.”

Vishal denies the allegation. He says: “Their charges are baseless. In fact, it was their team, which decided to delay the polls, which should have been completed by May 31, this year, in accordance with the association’s by-law. We want the management to be more democratic and transparent, and so, want a change.”

As the days get closer, the election is heating up, with both groups campaigning in full swing. They are both going all-out to meet influential actors and groups to seek their votes. Sarathkumar’s group has just secured the support of Silambarasan, aka STR. Some other big stars, however, are unwilling to endorse either group and are keeping the cards close to their heart. Actress and spokesperson of Congress party, Khushboo says: “I’m not contesting for any post. My support has always been with the righteous, and continues to be so. I have not been near the Nadigar Sangam for the last 10 years; so, it’s painful to see the state of affairs today. We have lost an iconic building that stood for the greatness of all our legendary great actors. I will definitely be casting my vote.”

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