Nowhere in the world is cinema as popular as it is in India. And nowhere are movie stars venerated and worshipped as they are in this country. And why not, given that India produces some 1200 pictures every year – an entertainment which remains one of the cheapest forms.
This star appeal is particularly apparent in Tamil Nadu. If a temple was built for actress Kushboo, giant wooden cutouts of Tamil superstars are anointed with milk and honey and garlanded with fresh flowers on the day their films open in theatres. Sometimes, fan clubs organise processions, replete with bands playing the favourite numbers from the stars’ movies.
It was this craze for cinema actors that got men like CN Annadurai, MK Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran (all former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu) to use the medium as a platform for their political parties – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). While Annadurai and Karunanidhi wrote film stories and scripts, cleverly weaving into them their political messages, handsome Ramachandran (popularly called MGR) acted them out.
The present Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalithaa -- who was once a popular star having paired with MGR in many, many movies -- realising the enormous potential of star power, has roped in a motley group of film and television actors to campaign for the upcoming general elections in April and May. These men and women will tour the State canvassing for Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK.
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Among the 20 men and women that the Chief Minister handpicked for this assignment, most of them come from cinema. Besides actor-turned-politicians R. Ramarajan (former MP), and C.R. Saraswathi (Chairperson, Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board), the list includes comedians Senthil, Gundu Kalyanam and Ponnambalam. Movie director Nanjil PC Anbalagan, lyrist Muthulingam, actors Vindhya, Kuyili, and Anandraj among others.
Also figuring in the list of star campaigners is actress Nirmala, who recently joined the AIADMK. Incidentally, both Nirmala and Jayalalithaa debuted in Vennira Aadai in 1965, their first foray into Tamil cinema. It was a popular hit, and Nirmala has since then been known as “Vennira Aadai” Nirmala. Like Sowcar Janaki, whose film, Sowcar, gave her the tag.
West Bengal has also caught on to this cinematic route, though going a step further than Tamil Nadu by asking actors to actually stand for the polls. Moon Moon Sen, daughter of the legendary actress, Suchitra Sen (who died recently), will contest from Bankura on a Trinamool Congress ticket – which is chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party. Sen will organise folk theatre in her constituency to spread the Trinamool message. Her daughters, Riya and Raima (both actresses working in Hindi and Bengali cinema), will pep up the glam quotient by electioneering for the party. The reigning heartthrob of Bengal, actor Dev, will also fight the elections from his home town of Ghatal.
Among the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidates, internationally renowned magician PC Sorcar and actor George Baker will represent the Barasat and Howrah constituencies.