Tracing Tamil cinema's love-hate relationship with political parties
Dravidian parties' overwhelming success may be attributed to the intelligent use of cinema by men like CN Annadurai, Karunanidhi and MGR - who were all CMs.
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Cinema has since time immemorial had a special bonding with politics, and we have seen that in Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy and even in America, where some presidents shared a wonderful rapport with Hollywood.
In India, Bollywood has been wooed by national parties from time to time, but Tamil films' equation with two most important parties - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - has always been a blow-hot-blow-cold affair.
The recent showdown that Tamil star Kamal Haasan had with the ruling faction of the AIADMK is nothing new. In 2013, when Haasan was all set to release Viswaroopam, he ran into a roadblock with the AIADMK administration, headed then by the all-powerful J Jayalalithaa, who died last December. It was alleged that the actor fell foul of the government because he could not agree to sell the television rights of the movie to a channel closely associated with the party.
Another version contended that Jayalalithaa was annoyed with Haasan because he had expressed his desire to see a “dhoti-clad Tamil as the next Prime Minister of the country”. He was speaking at a function to mark the launch of a book on then Union finance minister P Chidambaram.
One recalls that shortly before her death, hundreds of posters and banners had appeared in Chennai and other places in Tamil Nadu proclaiming her as the nation's next PM.
So, Haasan's uneasy relationship with the AIADMK is nothing new in a state where political parties have also liberally used the appeal and goodwill of actors to win elections. Men like Sivaji Ganesan, MR Radha, SS Rajendran and, of course, MG Ramachandran (MGR) have contributed a great deal to the success of politicians and their organisations.
As much as political parties, especially the DMK and the AIADMK, wooed stars, they were also chastised - even punished when they failed to toe the line or were critical of politicians. We saw this all too clearly now in the case of Haasan, whose criticism of the present government provoked the ire of the AIADMK.
Another Tamil actor who was also reportedly disliked by Jayalalithaa was Vijay. In 2013, his film Thalaivaa was not allowed to open. The police cited security concerns after some well-known theatres had received letters threatening them with dire consequences if they showed the movie. Also, it was not given a tax exemption - a huge amount of Rs 10 crore - and Vijay and his producer were in a quandary having sold the movie rights on the basis of the concession.
The all-powerful Jayalalithaa died last December. Photo: PTI
An earlier film of Vijay, Puli, also faced obstacles, and the cause of his perennial problems with the AIADMK was cited as his father's rift with Jayalalithaa.
Even someone as subtle and dignified as Rajinikanth could not help but blurt out during his 1996 campaign for the DMK: “Even god cannot save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa returns to power.”
But the DMK too had its issues with actors. Ajith, whose Vivegam is all set to hit the screens soon, once revealed how stars were forced to attend functions organised by political parties. He was referring to the one in 2010 where then CM Karunanidhi was being felicitated. In fact, Ajith had to issue a public apology to Karunanidhi.
Such love-hate relationship which Tamil cinema shares with politicians and their organisations largely stems from the fact that the medium is a very inexpensive means of entertainment (with the rate of a ticket before the GST being a maximum of Rs 120), which has the ability to turn the fortunes of a party.
The Dravidian parties' overwhelming success may easily be attributed to the intelligent use of cinema by men like CN Annadurai, Karunanidhi and MGR - who were all chief ministers.
Finally, Tamil Nadu appears to be part of a larger turmoil that is sweeping the country's cinema. Movie after movie has been flying into a tempest. Udta Punjab, Lipstick Under My Burkha and Indu Sarkar are only three examples. They had to struggle to get their censor certificates.
One wonders in this context what has happened to the recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee, which among other issues had urged doing away with censorship. Instead, it had suggested a rating system. Sadly nobody seems to be talking about it now!