An electoral multiplex

There is probably a good reason why the Election Commission chose Thursday 24 April instead of Friday the 25th for polling in TN. As a tradition barring occasional deviations new movies get released on Fridays nationally, but the EC probably wanted to be extra cautious in this Tinsel Nadu. It doesn’t need a Columbus to discover that here cinema runs in the Jeans, pardon, genes and a Friday poll would mean an utter flop at the ballot box office. For instance, in drawing crowds a sizzling Hansika would win hands down against the best at the hustings who would find it difficult to convince even his/her own family and workers to turn up to vote. I mean no insult to the voters in general but I do speak from ‘experience’ about a critical chunk who can make a difference on a non-Friday – the polls being a hit or taking a hit!

The State’s history runs parallel to that of cinema. Even during the first two decades since freedom when the Cong ruled, the DMK rose steadily owing to its cinematic presence. From 1967, when the DMK trounced Cong, all CMs, from Anna to now have had cinema as launching pad. Even ‘aspiring’ CMs invariably hail from the screens and almost all actors with just a sprinkling of cheering crowds would like to have a go at politics. The trend and tendency are so ingrained that the media, with Pavlovian penchant, never fails to ask of every actor if he has any political plans, even if the actor happens to be a debutant or even a child prodigy … just in case. While some smart stars side-step the trap, most, in delusory desire, get drawn into the dragnet, often to their detriment. This is also the only State where punch dialogues pass for policy declarations and political retorts are reeled out rather than being revealed on real time. But rarely, off-screen statements do come and in fact, TN was a pioneer of ‘voice’ politics long before Sonia’s inner voice or Cong’s ‘voice’ prez Rahul found his.

Regimes have alternated but cinema has always reigned. It holds such an overwhelming attraction to the masses that none can ignore. There have been several cinestars in politics in the last two decades all over India but TN has the ‘distinction’ of starting it all. And it still is ahead when it comes to nurturing this genetic obsession. It is the foremost medium that strikes an instant chord with the people and small wonder most politicos go out of the way to keep popular stars in good humour. The filmdom too is never found wanting in reciprocation, seizing every opportunity to shower its choicest encomiums on whoever is at the helm. But though star gazing and stars shining down in return have seen several re-runs, the star treks have never always been a smooth ride, hitting the occasional pothole.

It is not that mundane issues do not matter to the larger masses here. Indeed many polls have shown that the crowds that gather for and cheer stars, even superstars, vote differently. But the image of TN as a film crazed State appears to have stuck. So there is no surprise that even someone like Modi, who seems as remote to cinema as Pluto is to planet Earth, sees photo-ops with cinestars as a worthy and winning poll gambit. He should have gone the whole hog by promising to tackle inflation by reducing film ticket cost to an affordable sub-Rs75/-, uninterrupted power for uninterrupted movie viewing and even hassle free releases.

In a multi-cornered electoral film fest in TN, the voters have at least six prominent ‘screens’ to choose from. To me, NOTA is not an option and that probably is the only recommendation I deem fit to make. So, do heed the national call of duty, talk that short walk and ensure ‘full houses’ at the poll booths! That would also be a nice way of saying thanks to the EC for making it easy and guilt-free for us to indulge in our favourite Friday pastime.

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Jawahar T R