The timeless affair between politics and cinema gets a Rajinikanth chapter

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There is hardly anything new in actors taking the plunge late in their lives to harvest their pre-existing popularity. But there’s more to a long career in political governance.

Rajinikanth is about to become one among many actor-turned-politicians. What will his eponymous chapter bring to the book of Tamil Nadu politics?

“Finally” was a much-used adverb in newspaper headlines and tweets when Rajinikanth, the ‘Superstar’ and second-highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan, announced his entry into the political arena of Tamil Nadu a day before 2018 was born. For better or for worse, Tamil Nadu has been under the rule of film personalities for six-odd decades. From Annadurai to Kalaignar to MGR to Jayalalithaa, films and politics have been inseparable twins. Vijayakanth too was opposition leader once and Stalin, son of Kalaignar, has tried his hand in films. His son now is a hero in Tamil films. The political world has given film actors the fan base they need to succeed and they in turn have turned this fan base into votes for the parties and themselves. This phenomenon is not limited to Tamil Nadu. NTR, Chiranjeevi and now Pawan Kalyan have tried their hands in politics in Andhra. In Karnataka, Upendra has announced his entry in politics as well. In Kerala, actor Mukesh and Jagadeesh dabbled with politics as did Kaviyoor Ponnamma known for her mother roles. But it isn’t a South India thing either.

 

If we move to the North, from Amitabh Bachchan to Rajesh Khanna to Vinod Khanna to Sunil Dutt to Shatrughan Sinha have been MPs. If we take a look at the west, Ronald Reagan was the Governor of a State in and later the President of the United States. Jesse Ventura too has been a Governor, as has Arnold Schwarzenegger. Clint Eastwood was a mayor. Other countries are not too far behind. By design, anyone, from any profession, if they meet the minimum qualification required, can contest elections, garner votes and run for office within the law of the country. That should placate anyone who is angry over the idea of an actor ruling the State. This is a pretty common phenomenon around the world and actors should not face any disqualification just because of their profession as we have had and still have lawyers and doctors emerging as successful politicians.

What the ideal question should be when an actor chooses to enter politics is What is he offering to the people? Is he simply jumping into the driver’s seat of a bandwagon purely because he has popularity and a ready-made fan base? Has he contributed anything to win the people’s confidence beyond his films? Above all, are people, in general, stupid enough to blindly vote for a person they admired on the big screen, mistaking their charm and acting prowess for governmental acumen? This phenomenon of actors entering politics can be broken down if we try to get answers for the above examples.

 

The first example that jumps to people’s mind when an actor announces his intention to run for office in the state of Tamil Nadu would be MGR. While many would know and some wouldn’t, MGR’s film career always ran in parallel to his political career. He did not jump from the silver screen to the golden throne. He was originally in Congress at the start of his career. Like many youths, he too was attracted by the speeches of Annadurai and joined DMK. He is also said to have dabbled briefly with Leftist philosophy in the interim. He was also a major philanthropist and a benefactor of the people even before he contested a single election. His transition to electoral politics was organic.

J. Jayalalithaa too climbed the ranks of her party from the bottom up and worked hard as the campaigner for Mid-Day meal scheme, travelling the length and breadth of the State before she was assigned a party post.

Much like MGR, Ronald Reagan too did not appear one fine day and decide to become President. He worked as the leader of an actors’ guild twice. He then supported a presidential contestant in Barry Goldwater. He became a Governor twice. He had two failed Presidential campaigns before he went on to be become the U.S. President. Arnold Schwarzenegger first worked on campaign for George Bush Sr. He was later the chairman for the California Governor’s council on Physical Fitness by appointment.

 

We will be seeing Rajinikanth in a whole new avatar from hereon — a superstar who awed fans with his larger-than-life persona, making sparks fly from beneath his heels and fighting for the people’s cause on reel, will have to display all that mettle in the real world.

 

All of the above success stories are based on key elements — soundness of ideology, policy, connection with the people, along with the fame and money that their acting career fetched them. NTR’s case too was similar. If we look at Chiranjeevi, who banked on his fame and jumped into politics where certain key elements were missing, he did not get much success. Bhagyaraj and Shivaji Ganesan too met with the same fate in the State of Tamil Nadu. Even an eloquent orator and multi-talented T. Rajendarr, who followed his film career up quickly with a political one, did not get as much success as he should have considering his fame in the 1980s and having been known for outspoken honesty.

The people who vote are not stupid. They do not vote based on star power and charisma. If that had been the case, there would be no need for political parties. People still need to and do expect their leaders to deliver and have a sound ideological base. The popularity, money and fame of an actor might secure them a basic vote bank at the outset — the actor, who has already made an impression on them even before campaigning, has a certain level of reach among the public, who may also be easily converted into working party cadre — but the above examples show that is no guarantee of prolonged success.

It is unfortunately too premature to prognosticate Rajinikanth’s success as a politician. ‘Spiritual politics’ conveys a breath of fresh air — a welcome antithesis to the corruption and dirt most people consider the system entrenched in. But without the announcement of an actual political ideology and detailed plans for the State — economic policies and stand on subsidies, for instance — one has little information to go on. Honesty and anti-corruption are everyone’s stand as it should be.

However, the current situation in the State would definitely give an impetus to him. He is also not new to politics, has a great connect with the people of the State, is starting with a clean slate, has been involved in philanthropy too, has good support, albeit not unconditional, from the film fraternity and a good relationship with people in both politics as well as the film world. All these factors will work in his favour. These factors are subject to change considering that the State elections are officially three-and-a-half years away.

At any rate, we will be seeing Rajinikanth in a whole new avatar from hereon — a superstar who awed fans with his larger-than-life persona, making sparks fly from beneath his heels and fighting for the people’s cause on reel, will have to display all that mettle in the real world.

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