Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Star Election

The Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu’s elections May 8 2006 will be a star- studded affair. Four lead cinema actors are contesting in a State where films have always been an integral part of society and politics. Former State Chief Ministers, such as the late M.G. Ramachandran and M.K. Karunanidhi, rose to political power through cinema. While the former used the medium of acting, the latter wrote movie scripts. Both wove political messages into their work.

However, this time, the elections have thrown up the largest number of film candidates. Actors Vijayakanth, Napoleon, S.V. Sekhar and Vijaya T. Rajender are contesting the polls on different party tickets. But most of them are from the main Dravidian parties: the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the main opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Vijayakanth uses movie rhetoric in his campaigns. He is every bit the hero that the masses have adored. He does not lose an opportunity to regale the crowds with his screen dialogues and mannerisms.

Napoleon winds up his poll speeches with songs from his popular hits, but with lyrics modified to carry the manifesto of his political party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. His body language is sometimes aggressive and sometimes suave, indicating the range of roles he has played both as villain and hero.

Sekhar has long been a comedian on stage and screen, and his speeches are peppered with the wit and humour his fans love. Vijaya uses his on-screen poetic lines to demolish his opponents.

Tamil actress Simran, a poll campaigner
A larger number of cinema artists have been helping these four stars in their campaigns. Actresses such as Simran, Vindhya and Kovai Sarala among a host of others have been adding glamour to an election process that in undoubtedly most cinematic in Tamil Nadu’s history.

All this suggests that cinema in India is intrinsically linked to politics and everyday life. In fact, the moving medium has been the breeding ground, so to say, for a host of politicians.

India’s Parliament at New Delhi has seen many screen luminaries including some major Bolywood artists such as Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Babbar and Sunil Dutt. Khanna was the Minister of State for External Affairs in the former Atul Behari Vajpayee Government. Dutt was the Minister for Sports till his recent death in the present Manmohan Singh Government.

At one point of time, even India’s super star, Amitabh Bachchan, who has often been called “a one-man industry”, dabbled in politics.

At another level, politicians such the late N.T. Rama Rao and the late Annadurai, Chief Ministers of the southern Indian States of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively, held an unbelievable grip over the people. Rao’s innumerable movie roles as mythological characters and Hindu gods gave him a halo. People literally revered him, and he won elections easily.

Annadurai wrote film scripts and wove his political propaganda into them. Translated into screenplays and movies, the scripts became a powerful visual tool to attract electoral votes.

The present Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, was once the ravishing star of the Tamil language screen, and she got her first political lessons from Ramachandran and Karunanidhi. She is now fighting for her next term as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Pitted against her is her once-upon-a-time mentor, Karunanidhi.

And as popular cinema songs blare from loudspeakers in the cities and towns of Tamil Nadu, creating the magic of motion pictures, one gets the feeling that the entire State resembles a gigantic movie set.

(Posted on this website on May 5 2006)

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