Marriage between Vikram, Karunanidhi’s families typical of film-politics link in Tamil Nadu

Chennai June 29:Yet another film-politics nexus! I am referring to the impending engagement of Akshita, the daughter of actor Vikram, and Manu Ranjith, the great-grandson of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Though it is trivial to call it what I have, it is unavoidable to think of films and politics as bedfellows — especially in Tamil Nadu. In this case, of course it is simply a ‘boy-meets-girl’ story: they are getting married and what their fathers, forefathers did or do is purely coincidental.

But the marriage between films and politics is one of long standing in Tamil Nadu — now celebrating its platinum jubilee! Most of the credit for this goes to the Dravidian parties and particularly the great-grandfather mentioned here. It is slyly said that Congress dug its own grave in TN by increasing rural electrification in the 1950s. By doing so, it provided a medium for the Dravidian propaganda that wiped out their existence in the state.

As much as it for the medium, it was the changing social norms that spurred the marriage. Films before the entry of the DMK stalwarts were long-winding with characters speaking in chaste Tamizh and singing at the drop of a penny. Kamal Haasan once famously said, “It is the mythological films that helped atheism grow in TN”. The films were about mythological characters, a take-off from street art forms.

In his second film, Velaikaari, CN Annadurai talked about class conflicts. The film immediately struck a chord with the audience. Now, films were reflecting real life and they could identify with the protagonists. Crowds flocked to the theatres and DMK embraced the medium with glee.

Here they had a much larger audience and a canvas to script their ideologies. Annadurai’s protégé Karunanidhi (who earned the sobriquet Kalaignar for his contribution to literature and medium) was best poised to enhance the legacy. His fiery dialogues mouthed by capable actors became household utterances. Both the lead actors — MGR and Sivaji — by saying what Karunanidhi wrote, became the identity of the ideology themselves. So much so, that when Sivaji Ganesan visited Tirupathi for a darshan, the party cadres could not take that betrayal from him. After all he was the one who spoke those iconoclastic dialogues and here he was worshipping the very God he discredited. Such was the overlap between drama and real life.

While the Dravidian parties understood the strength of the medium, there was no one better than the late chief minister MG Ramachandran who used it as a great tool. His films were targeted at the subaltern class and the hero was always someone who fought for them against the authorities and established norms. He sang the famous ‘Naan aanaiyittal, athu nadanthu vittal’ (roughly translated, ‘if my words could be rules’) which made the people make his words (come) true. He rode on his filmy popularity to the highest chair in the state. And the impact of his film roles was so high, that even amidst allegations of corruptions by his administration, he was always considered to be clean. During the days when MGR and Karunanidhi were at loggerheads, the latter tried in vain to promote his son in films to counter MGR’s popularity (the grandfather of the bridegroom mentioned earlier).

But MGR had so much influence on the masses that he could not be unseated even after he stopped acting. For almost 10 years after his last film, he was still the hero and his words were dictum, only this time he didn’t have his best scriptwriter by his side.

And the current chief minister (Jayalalithaa) is again a product of the industry — although in her case, films just helped her to become popular as a face. Because, as is true even today, Tamizh films are hero-centric and the lead actresses do not have much substance in their roles, least as someone who can be seen as a saviour in a heroic mould. Jayalalithaa didn’t go around cracking the whip in films (despite the fact that she knows how to crack one). She used films as her visiting card for entry into a grander scheme of things. While MGR had a telepathic connect with the masses and he was seen as one among them, Jayalalithaa acquired it in real life at a later stage and not through her films.

Tamil Nadu as a state has seen four chief ministers from the film industry and a career in the movies is seen as a guaranteed passage to politics and high chairs. And no one is immune to the lure. The opposition leader MK Stalin had a stint in television, and now his son is “afflicted” too. Films are very much a part of a Tamizh psyche, so much so that people in their normal conversation use movie dialogues. And when it is used by a real star, as in the case of Rajinikanth, it can topple governments! It is imperative that every actor has an opinion on politics; the film industry has assumed the burden of Atlas to convene and condemn everything — well almost. So it is not strange to see a one-film wonder being hailed as the future chief minister. No political propaganda machine is without a film actor and some of them go on to become elected members of legislature.

But there is nothing much to complain about really! We don’t do that when we see many lawyers in the political arena. Maybe the connect film stars establish with the masses gives them some kind of empathy. And many on their own use their fan bases to help people, for instance, through blood banks, distribution of school books, and so on. Films are the surest way to take a message across to the masses.

The film-politics alliance is one that is bound to continue. In Tamil Nadu, films and politics are conjoined twins and no amount of skillful surgery can separate them.