The red flags and eye-catching banners flutter on the roadside, his posters coat the walls and blaring music rattles the tranquility of temple city.
The excitement was palpable on Monday.
The DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, or the National Progressive Dravidian Federation) is celebrating the birthday of their leader.
All that while, the man
in question, superstar Vijaykanth, was in Hong Kong shooting for a film.
That, however, does not detract Vijaykanth fans from his pro-poor off-screen image. From even before he took up politics, they have been celebrating his birthday as the local ‘Anti-Poverty Day’.
The 56-year-old had launched DMDK in September 2005 in Madurai.
The canny Vijaykanth had taken the proverbial leaf out of star-turned-chief minister MGR’s book: distributing meals, sewing machines, sarees, notebooks and suchlike among the poor. Some posters even show him almost as an MGR lookalike.
Birthday wishes poured in. Former President Abdul Kalam and Tamil Nadu Congress Committee President KV Thangkabalu were among those who sent greetings.
‘Captain’ to his fans because of his popular role in his 100th film Captain Prabhakharan, Vijaykanth calls himself ‘Karuppa MGR’ (the Black MGR). His photos with MGR pop up on the party website.
There are striking similarities in their style. Both played aggressive roles on screen, off screen both worked for the poor before entering politics. His astrologer RS Sundaranantham is confident that Vijaykanth would become chief minister after 2011.
“I had told him in 1980 that he will be a great film star and in 1986 he will be the chief minister, but he launched his party very late,” he said.
Lecturer SP Kabilan, a close friend of Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s grandson Durai alias Dayanidhi, said: “Yes, he is coming, but after 2020.”
A local political analyst believes Vijaykanth will occupy the third slot in cinema-governed Tamil Nadu politics.
Communist MP from Madurai P Mohan said: “We recently reviewed the political scenario of the state including his rise on the political horizon. We have submitted our report to the national secretariat for guidelines. No one is willing to write him off.”
A local journalist who toured Madurai during the 2006 assembly elections recalls how even the tiniest and remotest of the villages, with no sign or representation of the two big parties, had DMDK flags and workers.
Overnight, his fans (he is rumoured to have the biggest fan club in Kollywood, the Tamil film industry) had converted themselves into a political network to battle older, entrenched rivals.
He won only his own seat: Virudhachalam. Vijaykanth’s party did much better in the panchayat elections.
“Besides Congress and Communists, a lot of big parties of UP, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are contacting us. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Amar Singh — all are in touch with us. So far Vijaykanth has decided to go alone, but we will cross the bridge as and when it comes,” said L.K. Sushish, his brother-in-law.
He said the party was concentrating on the Parliament elections, and women and youth were its strength.
While Vijaykanth’s fighting style in movies, especially his kicks, are very popular with the country youth, of late he is becoming controversial “because of his riches and his relatives grabbing party positions”, according to a local journalist.
SP Kabilan, lecturer in the department of computer science at the Madurai Kamraj University College, said Vijaykanth was concentrating on the rural poor, especially farmers. “However, his presence would be a blessing in disguise for Karunanidhi as he’d cut into Jayalalithaa’s rural base.”
P Balchandran has been his fan since 1984, and for the past three years he has been in charge of Vijaykanth’s party’s Madurai North branch. “We had one lakh fans in this area. We have registered 70,000 party workers. Another 80,000 would join shortly. Preparations for the Lok Sabha elections have begun by imparting computer training to 3,000 students at our centres,” he said.
Vijaykanth’s poster looming in the backdrop, he declared: “He is coming. No one can stop him.”