Passage from the reel to real life not easy



CHENNAI. SEPT. 29. From `Puratchi Thalaivar' MGR to `Puratchi Kalaignar' Vijaykant, every actor nursing an ambition to make it to politics has used the big screen to send out many small but significant messages. Sometimes through songs, sometimes through lines in the film. Soon, the lines between their real-life and reel-life get blurred.

`Rickshakaaran' set the tune for `Autokaaran' and similar `image-boosting' songs that show the off-screen aspiring politician as the onscreen saviour/guardian of the poor and the upholder/protector/executer of justice, the brave hero who, as `Captain' Vijaykant says in `Gajendra,' can take one life to protect 10 and give his own too, if needed.

If superstar Rajnikant ended his last outing in `Baba' with the shot showing him walking towards the waiting people, in `Gajendra' the captain looks into the camera, points towards the people and says: "How can I not go? How can I not go when they are calling me," when a character asks him if he really should.

If the superstar in `Baba' called Tamil Nadu his `Uyir Naadu,' an injured captain in the climax of `Gajendra' takes a fistful of sand, rubs it in the wound in the stomach, and says: "Ithu mannu illai da, marundhu" (This is not just sand, it is medicine).

Rajnikant and Vijaykant both probably know that the roots do not seem to matter as long as the public perception of their identity remains that of "Tamizhan."

Comparing MGR's use of films to propagate ideology (`Idhayakani', `Anbe Vaa', `Netru Indru Nalai') with the present stars, film critic Malini Mannath says MGR had a convincing clean onscreen persona, which blended well with his off-screen conviction for public service initiatives. "He never smoked or drank onscreen, he was always a good son, a do-gooder with every virtue a hero needs to possess. But these days, the only virtue you find in a hero is brawn. Muscle power. The tone is more like, `I can kick ten people at a time, I can beat the bad guys. Trust me.' Vijaykant, though lacking the persona of an MGR or Rajnikant, is better placed because he has played the captain's role in real life and has proved that he can lead."

Director and film analyst Hariharan does not entirely agree. "Rajnikant's onscreen image is that of the anti-hero... maybe, because he started his career that way. His image has been that of `the good guy in the wrong house.' He has been the Robinhood and he revels in the anti-hero business. So his smoking was for fun and people do not see it as bad ."

Mr. Hariharan, however, feels that the present-day stars need to work harder than MGR did because "MGR happened when there was a DMK wave. His was not a planned entry though he was involved in politics much before he launched his party. Vijaykant has been preparing this for a long time. He has been involved in charity, genuinely feeding the poor for a while. Stars today need to prepare at a personal level."

Changed scenario

Another difference is that in MGR films, the state was not involved much. "It was the corrupt moneylenders, alcoholics and smugglers who were the bad people. Post-emergency, that has changed. Films made after 1977 began to expose corruption in politics. They reflected public disillusionment and espoused common causes. The new wave of Tamil cinema is doing that. Tamil people want a change, so much so they look for alternatives."

This is why, he believes, people lap up `Indian,' `Gentleman,' `Mudhalvan,' `Baasha' or `Gajendra', which have the hero as the vigilante. When the vigilante happens to be an aspiring politician, the fantasy is further heightened and the audience is led to believe that the hero might just step out of the screen to their rescue.

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