Why Rajinikanth joining politics is perfect
He needs to deliver something else this time: faith.
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Every time an actor announces the decision to join politics, my curiosity is piqued. We are a nation that worships stars. But when it comes to elections, we show them the ballot finger.
Since the ‘50s, film stars in India have, without hesitation, hopped on to the next, logical platform: politics. According to a Wikipedia entry, India has three times the number of actor-politicians than most countries, followed only by USA and Philippines (I wonder what’s happening there!).
Election results for actors have been far from blockbusting. Indian film stars have realised the bitter truth that winning votes is a lot tougher than bashing up villains. In fact, Sunil Dutt might be the only major film star who had a long, successful political career — winning five terms and also serving as Union minister for youth affairs and sports in the UPA government.
Govinda did nothing of remote importance as a politician; the highlight of his political career being the moment when he begged Sonia Gandhi to become the prime minister — much like the climax of a certain David Dhawan-Kader Khan film.
Hema Malini’s political career has been as spectacular as her daughter Esha Deol’s film career — with reports of villagers protesting outside her office since they saw zero development under the Dream Girl’s leadership. Hemaji is now seen as a representative for Kent RO.
Actress Jayaprada’s career started with the Telugu Desam Party in undivided Andhra Pradesh; she then switched to Samajwadi Party in UP, and finally launched her own party.
Down South, film stars have had blockbuster careers as politicians. Photo: Reuters
Chiranjeevi, the Telugu megastar, too, started his own party in 2008. In 2011, in a move that would give Chanakya a stroke, he merged it with the Congress. And then there’s the murky history linking Amitabh Bachchan and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scam.
It is not only film actors who have dipped their fingers in the hot oil of politics. TV actors, too, have tried their luck.
Smriti Irani is a success story, but other TV actors have found less success. Actors who essayed the roles of Ram, Krishna, Draupadi and Ravan (!) in mythological shows have contested elections in India.
Shekhar Suman joined the Congress, lost an election, and returned to TV. Rakhi Sawant launched her own party targeted at the ordinary citizen, called Rashtriya Aam Party.
So absurd is the association of stars with politics that Salman Khan has campaigned for both BJP and Congress. Bhai has gone so far as to campaign for the Sri Lankan president. Why? Tiger apolitical hai.
Many actors such as Amitabh Bachhan and Govinda have gracefully resigned from politics, whereas the other have faced defeat, or been invited as Members of Parliament in Rajya Sabha. Barring Kerala, every Indian state has had actors chancing their luck in politics.
Overall, the success rate of film stars in politics has been — to put it accurately — like Fardeen Khan’s career.
However, this is only true in the northern parts of India. Down South, film stars have had blockbuster careers as politicians.
People from north India are often baffled at the sycophancy surrounding film stars in Tamil Nadu, and attribute it to emotional overtures. It could be driven by emotion – like the temples built for actresses Khushboo and Namitha suggest.
But politics is deeply intertwined with cinema in Tamil Nadu. The three largest political icons in Tamil Nadu are film stars — MG Ramachandran (actor), Karunanidhi (screenwriter) and Jayalalitha (actor).
In undivided Andhra Pradesh, then megastar NT Rama Rao founded the Telugu Desam Party and became the chief minister of the state.
In December 2017, Rajinikanth announced that he will contest the next Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.
In many ways, Tamil Nadu politics is starkly different from politics in any other part of the country.
Thalaiva’s decision to bring about “spiritual politics” might have raised eyebrows in any other part of the country, but in Tamil Nadu, nobody batted an eyelid. The contribution of film stars to Tamil consciousness is rooted in the philosophies of Periyar and the self-respect movement. The state has a high Human Development Index (HDI) score when it comes to parametres like primary education and healthcare. In a nation that is slanting dangerously close to religion year after year, Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian politics has washed its hands of religion and caste.
In fact, Tamil Nadu’s leaders are proud and fierce atheists — from Karunanidhi to Kamal Haasan.
Thalaiva has his work cut out. Like in the film Hum, Thalaiva is entering an arena with two established players — the AIADMK and the DMK; Congress and BJP’s presence in the state is laughable.
Yet, Rajinikanth is not your average film star getting into politics. He is said to have 55,000 fan clubs in the state, besides a diasporic network of fans.
There are legendary stories of his humility, and his unique tradition of returning distributors’ money for films that tank at the box office. In a state that has largely fulfilled its basic needs, Rajinikanth needs to deliver something else this time: faith.
But as Thalaiva himself says in Linga: “Once I take up a job, I don’t leave it without completing it... and I don’t take up a job that I can't complete.”