Rajinikanth vs Kamal Haasan: The Battle in TN’s Political Theatre
One wonders if the Rajini vs Kamal dynamic in politics is a casting coup that will never happen.
The two have clashed several times on screen in the 70s, many of them iconic movies directed by the legendary K Balachander. Invariably, Kamal Haasan played the hero while Rajinikanth would be the stylish villain. Director Shankar attempted a reversal of roles by offering the antagonist's role in '2.0' to Kamal opposite Rajini, which he refused. The role was subsequently done by Akshay Kumar.
Which is why as the media builds up a Rajinikanth vs Kamal Haasan battle in the political theatre of Tamil Nadu, one wonders if this is yet another casting coup that will never happen.
Not the media's fault entirely, because over the past two months, both Rajini and Kamal have been serving their punch dialogues dipped in political gravy.
Rajini 2.0: The Political Avatar
It started when he addressed his fans twice in mid-May, indicating that if God so wished, he could take up another role.
Aware that his status as an outsider in Tamil Nadu because of his Kannadiga roots would come into question, Rajini emphasised his Thamizhness, perhaps as a counterpoint to the caste-dominated politics of Tamil Nadu.
Long used to his cryptic messaging, this was interpreted by Tamil Nadu as the clearest indication in 20 years that the superstar was contemplating a political plunge. He expanded on it by laying down certain terms and conditions.
If there is a situation where I have to enter politics, I will never let such people (who are interested in politics for money) even come near me.
This was seen as an indictment of the steeped-in-corruption politics and money power-driven elections in Tamil Nadu.
If sources close to the actor are to be believed, through June and July, work has been going behind the scenes to present Rajini in a political avatar. While he is working to finish '2.0'’ and ‘Kaala’, the aim is to have Rajini do an Usain Bolt of sorts, by keeping the time period between a political launch and elections as short as possible.
The hope is that Rajini will do an NT Rama Rao, who launched his Telugu Desam in 1982, to become CM of Andhra Pradesh within eight months in 1983.
Rajini the Neta, Courtesy BJP
Much of Rajini's political outreach will happen courtesy the BJP, with who his speculated party is likely to have an alliance.
BJP leaders have been gushing over the political equity and vote collections a Narendra Modi-Rajinikanth combo will bring to the EVM box office.
The backroom strategists are looking at a rainbow alliance that also includes Panneerselvam's faction of the AIADMK and Vijaykanth's DMDK and this they believe will be good enough to challenge any DMK-led alliance.
Enter Kamal Haasan
This is where Kamal's entry has given the Tamil Nadu political potboiler an entirely new twist. Not that the Ulaganayakan (Universal Hero) has not expressed his opinion on political issues before. He has, unlike Rajini, called a spade a spade. Most recently, he was vocal about supporting the pro-Jallikattu Marina uprising, and he had criticised the poor handling of the Chennai floods in 2015.
But the context is seen as different now. At a time when one of his best friends is seen at the threshold of entering politics, Kamal’s utterances seem to indicate a ‘me too’ attitude.
In the last few days, Kamal has displayed courage and character in taking on the AIADMK government, accusing the system of harbouring "corruption in every department".
He even asked the people to post complaints of corruption, to ask uncomfortable questions, and take the ruling establishment to task. In a poetic tweet, Kamal wrote,
If I decide, I am the chief minister/leader.
What exactly is on Kamal's mind? Politicians from the AIADMK and BJP asked him to get into politics instead of criticising. Kamal retorted he has been in politics since the time he voted and took part in the anti-Hindi agitation in the mid-60s.
Only one person knows if Kamal is planning to do a Rajinikanth. Kamal himself.
Will DMK's Sun Shine on Kamal's Political Career?
But while the BJP warms up to Rajini, Kamal won't bloom in saffron company. Rajinikanth is a spiritually inclined person, more in sync with the BJP's core philosophy. While Kamal is an atheist who often finds himself on the wrong side of Hindu fringe groups.
His thought process borders on the abstract and his expressions, both online and offline, seem to indicate that he wants to play the role of a catalyst and a watchdog rolled into one, to ask uncomfortable questions of those in power.
Interestingly, while the AIADMK did not react negatively to Rajini's denouncement of political crass in Tamil Nadu, senior ministers took Kamal to the cleaners. This is also an indication that Kamal's more targeted criticism hurts the government.
The fact that Kamal will be part of a DMK function in August has only strengthened speculation if the actor will end up lending a helping hand to the anti-AIADMK formation.
While the prospect of two superstars crossing swords is mouthwatering, both Rajini and Kamal are, in fact, not cut out for politics.
Rajini, for one, does not have a thick skin and his ability to take pungent and personal criticism on his chin will be tested if he dons the role of a neta.
Kamal is too outspoken to fit into a political party kind of system. He can at best be a lone crusader, using his brand equity with the people of Tamil Nadu, to highlight the wrongs in the system.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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