Chennai: Are film stars shooting into oblivion in the political universe of Tamilnadu? Yes, as a close watch of the electoral juggernaut rolling through the State now reveals, heroes, heroines, comedians, sidekicks and technicians from the celluloid world seem to have lost the pride of place they had in the State’s political firmament as prime influencers and party ambassadors.
In the first general election after the times of two top film personalities who dominated the State’s politics like colossuses, AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa and DMK’s M Karunanidhi, there is no star power or star dust to sizzle the proceedings.
Be it in the array of aspirants seeking entry into the Lok Sabha or in the galaxy of campaigners, cine world has no significant representation as in the past.
Of course, it is not that the celluloid world kept away from the humdrum of electoral politics voluntarily. It had its own share of eager aspirants, ready to rush in and fill the void left by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
Actors Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth did, indeed, rise to the occasion. But while Kamal Haasan just made it to the electoral arena, with no big hopes of winning and drawing crowds to his meetings, Rajinikanth had to make a hasty retreat when the bugles were sounded for the elections.
Even the other big actor in the electoral scene, Vijayakanth, is not as active as he had been after entering the fray. Though it is ill-health that forced ‘Captain’ to go slow, his political aura has been lost and he is no more seen as an alternative by the many who pinned their hopes on him when he launched his Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam in 2005.
More than the plethora of actors and actresses who fought electoral battles in various constituencies in those days with party tickets, the campaign trail too saw them in full strength at times turning the hustings memorable and legendary.
A case in point was the virulent campaign of Vadivelu against Vijayakanth when the DMDK was in an alliance with the AIADMK in the 2011 State Assembly elections.
Vadivelu then went all out against Vijayakanth touring the entire State, seeking votes for the DMK and drawing huge crowds that went home laughing their guts out. It’s a different matter that the AIADMK-DMDK combine romped home and Vadivelu even lost his standing in the film industry for his personal attacks on Vijayakanth and making the campaign acrimonious.
Every election since the early days had their share of film personalities entering the electoral arena as influencers or candidates using their popularity in films.
The late Cho Ramaswamy had been a regular campaigner in those days and used to attract crowds for his sense of humour, apart from political acumen.
The late M G Ramachandran had been a celebrity campaigner, candidate, party founder and so on before becoming the chief minister and had dominated the electoral arena with his sheer presence.
Even DMK founder, C N Annadurai, and his protégé M Karunandihi, were film writers when they launched themselves as campaigners for the DMK, much before becoming chief ministers.
The recent years had seen many film stars shining in the otherwise dull campaign scenes. Khushboo, Simran, Vindhya and Radhika are some of the actresses who had hit the campaign trail in the past with gusto.
Some of the actors were Ramarajan, Sarath Kumar, Vagai Chandrasekhar, the late Ritheesh and Napoleon, who had also contested elections, besides a plethora of others like Radha Ravi, the late S S Chandran, Senthil and Thiagu.
Of course, Khushboo continues to campaign for Congress candidates like E V K S Elangovan in Theni and H Vasanthakumar in Kanyakumari. As an official star campaigner of the Congress, she went to Bengaluru for campaign, though not all candidates of the alliance in Tamilnadu are inviting her to their constituencies, pointing to the modern perception that film stars may draw crowds but not necessarily votes.
Some of the other stars who hold membership in parties and are taking part in the ongoing campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are: C R Saraswathi (AMMK), Snehan who is also a candidate of Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM) of Kamal Haasan, Sri Priya (MNM), Nassar whose wife Kameela Nassar is the MNM candidate from Central Chennai, and Karthik.
Director-actor Samuthirakani and director Raju Murugan, who made the film Joker, have campaigned for CPI(M) candidate Su Venkatesan in Madurai expressing literary solidarity with him; and director Karu Palaniappan has campaigned for the DMK. Sarathkumar is now with the AIADMK-Congress alliance.
Another actor, Ranjit, switched loyalties from the PMK to AMMK after the alliances were formed but one does not know how much popularity he enjoys among the public.
Lastly, Udhayanidhi Stalin is fully into canvassing votes this time, though one is not sure if his celebrity status in the DMK’s campaign machinery can be attributed to his celluloid stardom or to the dynastic politics of the party.
Whatever it is, Tamilnadu seems to have lost a political tradition of having star-spangled campaigns every election, the visits of Smriti Irani to Chennai for vote-hunting notwithstanding.