The fault is not in our stars, but our film stars

Why two of the southern States have had their political canvas consistently dotted by characters from cinema, while the rest of the Union have not, is one of the eternal mysteries of Indian politics. But that doesn’t stop bankrupt parties from trying to shine in the reflected glory of the stars.

On the strength of their recent legislative performance, T.J.S. George says box-office stardust as a ballot-box  commodity is quickly turning into dust.



Film stars caused their two-paise worth of nuisance in this election. A couple of them may win but it is clear that their appeal as netas is declining steadily.

MGR and NTR meant something in politics.

Hema Malini and Jaya Bachchan meant nothing.

Star-MPs in the last Parliament in fact disgraced the parliamentary system itself. Govinda failure to attend even one session showed an attitude of contempt towards Parliament. Vinod Khanna, once trumpeted by the BJP, attended only 5.5 percent of the sittings. Dharmendra‘s score was 1.5 per cent.

If these guys are so high and mighty, why did they become MPs in the first place? The parties who sponsored them must be held accountable by the people who elected them.

In the South, things are somewhat better.

Actually, film stars turning to politics is a South Indian phenomenon, more specifically a Tamil phenomenon. The reasons are historical. Cinema became an integral part of the Dravida movement and therefore a serious player in politics. It was not a case of roping in pretty faces to get votes.

The anti-Brahmin movement had started earlier in Maharashtra under Jyotiba Phule. But it was Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker who gave it an ideological sweep and a cultural (Aryan-Dravidian) dimension. The revolution he wrought was turned by C.N. Annadurai into a solid political platform. Because Annadurai was the most brilliant film writer of his time, Tamil cinema became a political instrument.

Fascinating details of this union between politics and cinema are marshalled in History Through the Lens, a new book by the greatest living authority on Tamil cinema, S. Theodore Baskaran.

From the 1920s, he tells us, drama artistes were involved in the freedom struggle. In 1958 the legendary K.B. Sundrambal became India’s first film artiste to enter the legislature. After independence, film actors as a community, who had earlier been backing the cause of the Congress, moved on to support the Dravidian movement. The Congress never recovered from that.

Dravidian assertion over Brahmins did not develop in other South Indian states as intensively as it did in Tamil Nadu.

Something else happened in Andhra when that amateur Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, publicly humiliated the then chief minister of the state, T. Anjiah. It was an insult to Telugu pride, but neither Anjiah nor the Congress party was in a position to do anything about it. N.T Rama Rao rose to the occasion and rode to power on the plank of Telugu atmagauravam.

That was a spontaneous response to a moment of challenge. NTR did not have the intellectual resources to turn it into an ideological platform. Even in Tamil Nadu the inspirational pull of the Dravidian movement has lately been diluted by caste and sub-caste politics. Hence the ambivalence of wannabe netas like Rajnikanth and the uncertainties of fresh entrants like “Black MGR”, Vijaykanth.

In Andhra, Chiranjeevi has serious handicaps and dissensions in his personal circle, the absence of an ideological agenda. Whether he can do an NTR will depend on whether the people see him as a credible agent of change.

In Karnataka even a god-like figure like Raj Kumar kept out of politics. The most glamorous Kannada heroine of all time, Jayanti, was defeated by the most unglamorous opponent of all time, Ananth Kumar, in 2004.

Ambarish (in picture) is an exception that proves the rule that stars don’t shine in the politics of Karnataka. He is a strange exception the only minister in the Union Cabinet who never attended office.

That beats even Govinda.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News