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Stars Rise

North produces entertainers, but personality cult and on-screen image make southern stars shine in politics, reports Sunita Aron & MR Venkatesh.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2008 01:19 IST
Sunita Aron & MR Venkatesh

Besides Bofors, actor Amitabh Bachchan had another reason to quit politics: he did not want to divide his fans along political lines.

Bachchan recently wrote on his blog that his distancing from politics came after an incident in Assam, where he had gone after his victory against political stalwart Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna in the early 1980s. A young man had told him: “ I am your fan, but I do not support your party. You are making my life difficult. I am torn between two loyalties. Leave politics.”

He did. Mumbai’s film industry lost a chance to do a south — a megastar going from posters to the podium, and making a huge success of it.

Andhra actor Chiranjeevi, who launched his party on Tuesday, inherits the long tradition of southern stars like M.G. Ramachandran, NT Rama Rao, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi of living up to their XXL screen images in their political lives.

Just Tamil Nadu has produced five chief ministers in a row connected with films — CN Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, Janaki Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa.

In contrast, a second Parliament stint for Dharmendra from Bikaner looks bleak. Ditto with Govinda. Only the late Sunil Dutt and now Vinod Khanna are among those who won elections and sustained the goodwill.

“There are solid reasons for southern stars doing better than their Bollywood counterparts. One, cinema is religion there — perhaps more than what is cricket to rest of the country; it literally pervades their daily lives,” said political analyst and head of Development and Research Services GVL Narsimha Rao. “Second, though cinema gives the actors a huge headstart in politics where entry barriers are very high without caste support, they strive hard to build their screen image. NTR and MGR took pro-poor steps that matched their screen personas.”

Political analysts say while in the south film stars have successfully floated parties and grabbed leadership roles, Bollywood stars have not grown out of their “entertainer” image. The handful that has ventured into politics tagged on to mainstream parties.

Emergency propelled Dev Anand to launch a party. But it was wound up much before it could create any effect. Raj Babbar’s Jan Morcha has disappeared after a spate of agitations. He also needed a political figure like V.P. Singh to give it credibility, and is now with the Congress.

Shatrughan Sinha became a Union minister, but with a mainstream national party.

“In comparison, Chiranjeevi is sure to pitch for power within months of launching his party. Vijaykanth is making waves in Tamil Nadu after entering politics in 2005,” said Rao.

Chennai-based journalist Kamlendra Kanwar says Vijaykanth’s fledgling party will get votes, a couple of Lok Sabha seats too.

“There is disillusionment with Karunanidhi while Jayalalithaa evokes strong likes and dislikes. There is a halo around Vijaykanth. People who want a third force see a strong potential in him. The natural tendency of hero worship among south Indians and a strong personality cult give stars a boost,” he said.

Raja Bundela of Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand acted in a couple of films. But today people remember him more for his struggle to get statehood for Bundelkhand than his film roles.

“Unfortunately, Bollywood stars don’t come out of the ‘I, me and myself’ image even after entering the public life. Their dialogue, role and costumes override the public demand of roti, kapda and makaan,” he said. “In the south, they live their screen image off-screen too, work as social reformers. Of the four films that Rajnikant does in a year, income from two goes for the welfare of his fans and public. Our badshah, on whom the industry had pinned hopes, preferred to quit politics than connect to the public. Even Shabana Azmi, who had the right grooming as a daughter of revolutionary poet Kaifi Azmi, did not go beyond the chawls of Mumbai.” Raj Babbar agreed: “The intellectual class in the south, including writers and film stars, have always been associated with the social reform movement since Periyar’s days.”

Umesh Narain Sharma, advocate from Allahabad, sums up the disappointment with Bolllywood stars in politics, recalling Bachchan’s withdrawal from politics. “We were extremely upset. He showed some understanding of our problems and we a saw great potential in him as a politician,” he said.