South Indian Film Industry and Politics

By • Mar 29th, 2009
Category: Books, Movies, Music, Televison, Books and Authors, Chennai/Madras, India, People, Video, YouTube Videos

This is perhaps the first Indian general electins where so many Indian film makers and stars are involved. This is not the first general election where movie stars are playing a significant role, but this is perhaps the first time where a large number of them are involved and that is what is different. While some film stars or filmmakers are contesting elections, others are canvassing for various parties, and still others are working with grassroot organizations in helping people to register and vote in the upcoming general elections.Films and politics is a potent and powerful combination, and nowhere is this more evident  than the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu was the first state to use films as a political medium right after India became independent. From the 1940s through 1960s many of the Tamil films had a strong political theme.  CN Annadurai and Karunanidhi wrote the screen plays for well-known films like Nalla Thambi,  Vellaikari, Rajakumari, Rajakumari, Manohara and others. The dividends paid off for the Tamil film stars cum politicians in the late 1960s when the Congress Party was defeated and replaced by the Dravida Kazhagam  headed by CN Annadurai.Since the 1960s Tamil Nadu has been run by film stars turned politicians or a politicians with strong connections to the Tamil film industry. The list includes Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, and Jayalalitha. Karunanidhi, the current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has written many screenplays for Tamil films, while ex-Chief Minister Jayalalitha was a well-known Tamil actress from the 60s and 70s. Both candidates continue to dominate the political landscape in Tamil Nadu to date.

But, it is  superstar Rajnikanth or “Rajni,” who has provided tantalizing glimpses of his political ambitions, who can change the political landscape in Tamil Nadu.

Rumor has it that if Rajni were to join the political arena he would be a big game changer. But, will Rajni make his political debut is the $64 million question. In the meantime his Telugu counterpart, Chiranjeevi made his political debut in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh.It was the the Telugu movie star NTR took a leaf out of the Tamil film makers turned politicians and ran for state elections in the early 1980s by forming a new political party; Telugu Desam (Aside: Before Hyderabad became a base for Telugu cinema in the mid 1980s, it was Madras or Chennai, where Telugu cinemas were made. When NTR became the CM of Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu film industry slowly moved its base out of Madras/Chennai.) To the surprise of many political pundits NTR won the elections and remained as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for multiple terms before being ousted by his tech-savvy son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu. Dominating the elections in Andhra Pradesh this time around is another megastar: Chiranjeevi, who started a new party called Praja Rajyam (roughly translates into People’s Rule).

This is what The Economist wrote about Chiranjeevi and his charismatic and mesmerizing influence over a crowd of 400,000 people. (I don’t think even Obama can match this kind of devotion). 

WHEN Chiranjeevi lifts his arms, a human ocean, stretching into the distant gloom, roars. Beneath the rickety stage that bears the 53-year-old film-star, idol of Andhra Pradesh’s Telugu-language film industry, or “Tollywood”, the crowd boils and threatens to burst. Having sweltered for hours waiting for this actor-prophet, the men and boys of Rajahmundry, a concrete city in southern Andhra Pradesh (AP), want entertainment. Feverishly, they shriek his nickname: “Megastar!”  

There is a lot riding on these actors to deliver. The question is will their star power convert into votes? Will Chiranjeevi be able to pull off a political coup and head the government in Andhra Pradesh?

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8 Responses »

  1. Really a fabulous article on south Indian film industry politics. Great blog really enjoyed it.

  2. A timely article during election time. well written, and backed by reel and real content. your articles are always well presented. it is a joy to read.

  3. [...] participating in the election campaign process. But, there was an exception. The Southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is the first state in the world to effectively harness and use the film medium for political [...]

  4. [...] in the election campaign process.  But, there was on exception and this the Southern state of Tamil Nadu , which is the first state in the world to effectively harness and use the film medium for [...]

  5. The short answer to your question about Chiranjeevi is ‘no, he will not transform AP politics’. To every film star who has made a mark, I can name two who have not. Chiranjeevi falls into the latter category. AP politics will continue to be dominated by the Congress and in second place, the TDP.

  6. [...] filamu walipokuwa wakijishirikisha kwenye kampeni za uchaguzi. Isipokuwa kwenye jimbo la kusini la Tamil Nadu ambalo ni jimbo la kwanza duniani kutumia nyenzo ya filamu kwa sababu za kisiasa kuanzia wakati wa [...]

  7. I think the dravidian movement and the purpose of it could have been well explained through the cinema, which our people failed to carry forward. I think MGR tried a little but then the focus was on ruling the state.

  8. [...] Kamla Bhatt Blog » South Indian Film Industry and Politics [...]

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