Why Rajini-Kamal On Screen Bond May Not Translate Into Politics
Kamal & Rajini shared good on-screen space, but may not be able to tie up in politics, due to opposing ideologies.
The last time Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth got together was on the silver screen for Geraftaar in 1985 along with Amitabh Bachchan. The film was a super hit. Before one raises their eyebrows over what two Tamil superstars were doing in Bollywood, you have a new surprise now – they are into politics these days.
The Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) party was announced by Kamal in 2018, while ground reports suggest that Rajini’s political party’s name is Makkal Sevai Katchi (MSK). With elections barely 4 months away, Rajinikanth appointed the head of Tamil Nadu BJP unit’s Intellectual Unit as his party’s chief coordinator.
Will Rajini-Kamal Be Able To Repeat On Screen Success In Politics?
Kamal and Rajini have different on-screen images. Kamal is more of an actor who has played a dizzying range of characters. As an actor he has experimented a lot and has been adored universally. Rajini’s silver screen persona is that of a mass hero, donning larger-than-life roles and often playing to the galleries. With his punchy dialogues and stylish mannerisms, he carved out a larger (and more loyal) fan base for himself. He seldom experimented, always staying true to fans’ expectations.
Both Rajini and Kamal have been box office icons well into the 2000s. But their popularity is on the wane with no remarkable box office hits in the past decade.
Rajini’s last profitable venture was Enthiran in 2010 while for Kamal it was Vishwaroopam in 2013. Now the buzz in Tamil Nadu and outside is over whether they can repeat their erstwhile box-office performances in politics too. There are also rumours in Chennai that the two might join hands for the vaunted objective of protecting the interests of the Tamil people.
Today’s Political Sphere Is Different From The ‘80s: What This Means
It is also important to understand that contemporary politics is different from that of the 1980s. In the ‘80s, politics was about performance and theatrics – so actors like MGR, Jayalalithaa, and NTR survived for long in politics. Back in the 1980s, politics was an extension of the silver screen and vice-versa. Now, due to the democratisation of mass media, movie stars don’t hold the monopoly anymore over people’s consumption of images and visuals. Politicians have become equally at ease in projecting themselves in popular culture through songs, videos, memes, etc.
Today’s politics has moved beyond theatre and performance, just as cinema expanded beyond typical mass-masala movies.
Besides, Rajini’s long-awaited period to take the plunge into politics had resulted in a loss of enthusiasm among people about his political jump. Kamal’s sudden announcement also did not create much buzz in Tamil Nadu. Even if one goes by the tradition of cine-actors jumping from on screen to real politics, both the actors made the mistake of delaying their entry into politics considerably.
Will Celeb Status Alone Help Rajini & Kamal In Politics?
Though MGR and NTR are much-quoted examples of star-turned-CMs, the failures are more common. Take for instance, two other superstars who turned politicians in TN – Sarath Kumar and Vijayakanth. For all practical purposes, Sarath Kumar had a strong base in certain pockets of Tamil Nadu, particularly among the Nadar community. Similarly, Vijayakanth had a strong base in southern Tamil Nadu. Despite his party Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) contesting all 234 seats and polling 10 percent votes in the 2006 assembly polls, he was the sole winner. Today, both Sarath Kumar and Vijayakanth are in political oblivion.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, megastar Chiranjeevi entered politics with his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). Contesting in all 294 seats during the 2009 assembly elections, PRP garnered only 18 seats despite 18 percent vote share. Being from the numerically dominant Kapu community helped only marginally. His brother Pawan Kalyan entered politics in 2014 along with his Jana Sena Party. It contested the 2019 general elections, but could win only one seat in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. Pawan himself lost both the seats he contested from.
Kamal and Rajini do not have much of a rural base, enjoying a bigger fan base in urban areas. Much of this is located in and around Chennai.
Additionally, social groups of Kamal (Brahmin) and Rajini (Maratha) cannot influence the elections due to numerically low or non-existent strength. Kamal’s elder brother Charu Haasan remarked how both the actors combined cannot gain more than 10 percent vote-share. We opine that it is likely that both of them combined will garner less than Pawan Kalyan’s 7 percent vote share.
Can Rajini & Kamal Grab The Anti-Incumbency Vote?
Since Stalin is strongly placed in the DMK as Karunanidhi’s successor, he can effectively maintain his party’s base vote. ADMK’s vote-bank is also susceptible to losses with other claimants to Jayalalithaa’s legacy in the fray, especially Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam. The big question is: whether or not either of the stars acts as a spoilsport for DMK and attracts some of the anti-incumbency votes alongside that of first-time voters. But neither has proposed any disruptive or radical politics to inspire the electorate.
Insiders suggest that Rajini’s lack of criticism of the AIADMK government could result in him being co-opted by the ruling party to counteract the growing popularity of Kamal among urban youth.
Kamal openly acknowledged his hosting of the wildly popular Bigg Boss Tamil show to reach millions in Tamil Nadu. Trying to make inroads into Tamil Nadu politics, BJP will try to ride on the shoulders of some known faces. They did this in Andhra by tying up with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena. So it is likely that they might join hands with Rajinikanth in case AIADMK refuses to play ball during seat negotiations due to the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle.
Ideological Differences Between Rajini & Kamal Could Prove To Be A Challenge
Though Kamal and Rajini shared good on-screen space, it may be difficult for both the actors to share political space, given their differing ideologies.
Rajinikanth has repeatedly praised Modi’s big-ticket decisions, from demonetisation to CAA. Kamal has been vocal in his opposition to these steps, including the recent farm bills.
Ideologically, Kamal is close to DMK’s secular anti-centrist brand of politics while Rajinikanth is aligned with the BJP with him promoting spiritual politics.
But visibility and stardom will not translate into votes on ground without constant organisational work and on-ground campaigns by long-running parties. Being 65+, neither of them is in a position to play the long-term game for the next 10-15 years to become the CM or king-makers. With very little time available for the next assembly elections, it is apparent that neither Kamal nor Rajini is in a position to push their agenda. Both are better off being star campaigners for larger coalitions and should try pushing their ideologies from within. This would help attract the much-needed youth vote for either party, while keeping themselves relevant.
(Naga Sravan Kilaru is the founder of the youth advocacy organisation Yuva Galam in Andhra Pradesh. He tweets @knsravan_. JJ Siddharthan is a freelance writer who works to create marketing content for startups and companies, with a special interest in film theory and film criticism. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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