Roles of a different kind: Growing tribe of actor-politicians in India
Daijiworld Media Network
Mar 17: Widely perceived as the mother of all political battles in India the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha is just a few days away from now. Just as political parties have warmed up to the challenge long before the poll dates were announced, aspiring showbiz personalities, successful and not so successful, are ready with a script for a political role for themselves. It is not surprising that political parties welcome them with open arms giving a platform for their altered scripts that may or may not strike a chord with the electorate.
For the last five decades or so politics has been the most ideal choice for actors in India, some of whom have been able to make a mark in both the fields with equal ease. Politics being quite a lucrative second career (now much more lucrative than films) there is a long list of actors making a beeline to find an entry into politics either by joining other parties or by starting their own parties. There are a few stars who are quite vocal about their political affiliations and are ready to even campaign for them.
It is disconcerting to note that even established political parties are waiting with bated breath to welcome the glamour quotient the showbiz people bring with them just for their showbiz brand. For these stars (some of them past their prime) politics is a bespoke career and their public visibility and star appeal gives them the head start to launch their political career. The actor-politician combination has received a short in the arm in the coming elections if the Federal Front indeed becomes a feasible reality. It is an altogether another matter that popular perception is not in favour of such an entity given the past track record.
But Indian political scene is bizarre and is unpredictable and there is every possibility that we might have an actor-turned politician as our Prime Minister in Jayalalitha, if at all the leaders of this hodgepodge Federal Front of convenience come to a consensus. If it indeed becomes an actuality then the southern state of Tamil Nadu will have another feather in its crowded plume. If MGR was the first film actor in India to be the Chief Minister in 1977, the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha has been quite open about her pan-India ambitions. If her political journey goes according to her plan none can stop her from occupying the highest post whatever might be the durability of her position on top.
Though the mass appeal, glamour and histrionics of cine stars cannot be doubted, their effortless transition from actors to politicians gives rise to many questions. Do actors make good politicians?
Does merely being an actor should make someone qualified to be a politician? Or is politics is a continuation of what they have been doing all along – acting? Or is it mere luck that propels them into limelight? May be not! Mega Star Amitabh Bachchan was a failure as a politician. After all, these actors are paid handsomely for acting or rather lying. Moreover, both actors and politicians share the one common trait – their ability to manipulate. At the same time there are some instances of actors who have made mark as politicians.
Tamil Nadu shows the way
In India film star-political nexus is in vogue for quite some time now. The movement began in Tamil Nadu and it was script writers who initially made a successful transition as politicians. DMK leader Karunanidhi was one of the greatest script writers of Tamil film industry. Later on these behind-the scene-film personalities were overshadowed by some of the superstar actors who with their larger than life size portrayal on screen were able to catch public imagination.
The success of some of the actors as MPs, MLAs and ministers has fueled the ambitions of other movie stars to test their second innings in political field. However, when it comes to this nexus there is a clear north-south divide in the sense that many southern film stars have launched their own political parties and have been able to make that difference. In the north many actors chose the better option of joining the existing political parties. The south also has more actor-politicians than north clearly indicating that in the south the dividing line between fact and fiction is quite thin.
M G Ramchandran had started ADMK and set a new precedent and N T Rama Rao had started Telugu Desam creating another phenomenon in Andrapradesh. What MGR was in Tamil Nadu NTR was in Andhra thus bringing in a whip of filmi air into politics. Actor Vijayakanth started the left-winged Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, a regional political party in Tamil Nadu in 2006 and his contemporary Chiranjeevi made his grand entry into politics by launching “Praja Rajyam” a regional political party in Andhra Pradesh. Speculation is rife that his elder brother Pavan Kalyan is likely to launch a regional political party soon. Many more popular actors like Sharathbabu, Mohan Babu are weighing their political prospects and may barge into politics any time.
The heartthrobs of Hindi cinema Amitabh Bachhan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Shatrugan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Govinda, Sunil Dutt, Shekar Suman, Jayapradha, Nafisa Ali etc., fulfilled their political ambitions by joining existing political parties. Now, Bengali Babu Mithun Chakrobarthy is all set to try his luck in politics. Singers and actors are in great demand in many states because of their mass appeal.
Big queue for political roles in Karnataka
Among the southern states, Karnataka and Kerala did not follow in the steps of their neighbours and showbiz people could not cut much ice with the electorate except for a few. Many stars have jumped into the political bandwagon but with limited success. The Late Dr Rajkumar had the charm and the capacity to don the role of the highest office of the state but he resisted every endeavour to draw him into politics.
But now the political scene in Karnataka is witnessing a new trend as many wannabe actresses are trying to have an alternative career in politics. Some have failed miserably in their endeavour but the trend continues because political parties welcome them with glee and want to exploit them. Mandyada Gandu Ambareesh succumbed to political temptation and donned many roles as a politician. Actor Umashree is now a Minister in the Congress government and is doing a commendable job considering that no one had taken her seriously earlier. Actor Ramya has recently been elected as a Member of Parliament and has been forthright about her political ambitions. Actors Mukhya Mantri Tara, Anantnag, Srinath and Ganesh have also succumbed to the temptation of an alternative career in politics.
Actors Pooja Gandhi, Rakshitha and Upendra have added a touch of glamour to the political scene in Karnataka in the forthcoming elections. Pooja Gandhi might have attracted crowds but could not convert them into votes in the last assembly elections. And now actor Shivarajkumar’s wife, Geetha Shivarajkumar has entered the political fray and is contemplating contesting from Shimoga. Geetha, daughter of former Chief Minister late S Bangarappa, is facing none other than former Chief Minister BJP candidate B S Yeddyurappa. And what are her credentials? The only criteria seem to be that she is former chief minister’s daughter and actor Shivarajkumar’s wife.
Glamour no guarantee for success
For showbiz people politics has always been the platform that helps them stay in limelight. Earlier actors took the risk of a political career only after their celluloid charm declined. But now the trend is reversed and a growing number of them are risking even their film career knowing full well that unlike film world political field has a long shelf life and is lucrative.
Actors might add glamour to politics which lacks lustre but their glamour need not guarantee their success in politics which is becoming murkier with the entry of criminals, real estate and business tycoons and other goons. If people elect actors merely for their onscreen persona then it is the misfortune of Indian politics. MGR, NTR and Jayalalitha might have used their onscreen popularity just as a stepping stone to enter politics. But once in power it is a different ball game altogether. They had to learn the ropes of politicking and display their political acumen and it was a constant slugfest to live up to people’s expectations. In the present crop of stars that are testing their political destiny, it is hard to find anyone with the charisma, personality and adulation that had propelled some of the earlier celluloid stars into political stardom.