Debating India


The celluloid connection

T.S. Subramaniam

Friday 30 July 2004, by SUBRAMANIAN*T.S.

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C.N. Annadurai, founder of the DMK.

EVER since the birth of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949, politics and cinema have intermingled in Tamil Nadu. But the only full-time film actor whom the Tamil electorate was prepared to accept as a full-fledged politician fit to lead the State was M.G. Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR. For he was the man who symbolised their travails, struggles and aspirations. MGR split from the DMK and founded the Anna DMK (later All India ADMK) in October 1972 and became Chief Minister in 1977, which post he held until his death in December 1987.

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M. Karunanidhi, DMK supremo.

MGR grew in politics and films simultaneously. In his 30s, he was a khadi-clad, rudraksha-wearing Congressman, struggling to make a mark in films. He worked to a plan in both his films and politics. In his earlier films such as Marma Yogi, Andaman Kaithi, Nadodi Mannan and Manthiri Kumari, he espoused his personal ideals such as helping the poor, being chivalrous and fighting injustice. This made him popular among the poor people of Tamil Nadu.

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M.G. Ramachandran, AIADMK founder and former Chief Minister.

As the DMK rose in popularity in the 1950s, he hitched his stars to the party and started campaigning for it. He used songs and dialogue in his later films such as Anbe Vaa, Oli Vilakku and Vettaikaran as propaganda vehicles for the DMK. It was a symbiotic relationship between MGR and the DMK. Each used the other to grow. In the early 1960s, he became a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC). In 1967 and again in 1971, he was elected to the Assembly on the DMK ticket from the St. Thomas Mount constituency in Chennai. While his film career and acts of generosity made him popular, his political role brought him in direct contact with the vast network of his fans association. This gave him access to people and helped in knowing the pulse of the masses. After MGR was suspended from the DMK in October 1972, he founded the ADMK and used his films such as Idhayakkani and Nettru, Inru, Nalai to boost the party.

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Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

C.N. Annadurai, the founder of the DMK, and M. Karunanidhi, DMK president and former Chief Minister, used Tamil films to espouse the cause of rationalism, social reforms and the party’s ideals. Anna’s storyline and dialogues in Oor Iravu, Velaikkari and Sorkavaasal and Karunanidhi’s powerful dialogue for Parasakthi were trendsetters in Tamil films. It was in Parasakthi that Sivaji Ganesan made his entry into Tamil films from theatre.

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Sivaji Ganesan, who failed to make a mark in politics.

Sivaji Ganesan, actor non-pareil, was not astute enough to brave the rough and tumble of politics. In the 1950s, he was with the DMK. He was pilloried when he visited the Tirumala temple because a fundamental tenet of the DMK is rationalism. He later joined the Congress and accepted K. Kamaraj as his leader. Unlike MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, although a marvellous actor, never used songs and dialogues in his films to boost his image or for his personal advancement in politics. Nor did he use his films to shore up the Congress’ image in the State. In the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Sivaji Ganesan came up against a wall in the form of a group led by G.K. Moopanar.

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T. Rajenderr, former MLA (DMK).

After MGR’s death in 1987, the AIADMK split into two, one led by his widow Janaki Ramachandran and the other by Jayalalithaa. Sivaji Ganesan had differences with the Congress leadership over which faction to support. So he founded the Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani in February 1988. In the January 1989 elections to the State Assembly, he backed the Janaki faction. The Jayalalithaa faction and the Congress led by Moopanar contested separately. Sivaji Ganesan contested from Papanasam and was defeated. The elections saw the return of the DMK headed by Karunanidhi to power. The Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani slipped into oblivion and Sivaji Ganesan retired from politics.

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Napolean, DMK MLA.

Jayalalithaa, now both AIADMK general secretary and State Chief Minister, has acted in several films opposite MGR. In the early 1980s, MGR introduced her into politics. At that time she was leading a quiet life, reading books and writing for Tamil magazines. She came under klieglights again at the World Tamil Conference organised by MGR in 1981 in Madurai when he was Chief Minister. She choreographed and acted in a dance-drama titled, "Cauvery Thantha Kalaiselvi" (The Artistic Daughter Bequeathed by the Cauvery). He formally brought her into politics in 1982 when P.U. Shanmugam was AIADMK general secretary. Jayalalithaa was nominated to the government’s high-level committee on the noon-meal scheme. She later became the party’s propaganda secretary and Rajya Sabha member.

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K. Bhagyaraj.

The death of MGR, the split in the AIADMK, the subsequent merger of the two factions, Jayalalithaa presiding over the reunified party, the AIADMK’s return to power in 1991, Jayalalithaa’s election as Chief Minister, the party’s defeat in the 1996 elections and her return to power in 2001 are important events.

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Ramarajan, former MP(AIADMK).

In recent times, a number of Tamil actors have played bit roles in politics. S.S. Rajendran was first DMK M.P. and was later elected to the Assembly from the Andipatti constituency in 1980 on the AIADMK ticket. He founded the MGR-SSR Latchiya DMK. He is not active in politics now. Some actors failed to live up to the expectations they generated. Two such are Bhagyaraj and Ramarajan. Even when MGR was alive, Bhagyaraj became popular with his earthy films. In 1984, when MGR released a Tamil paper called Manramurasu (edited by Musiri Puthan, who headed MGR’s all-world fans association), he ordained Bhagyaraj his kalaiulaga vaarisu (successor in the world of arts). MGR also presided over Bhagyaraj’s marriage to actress Poornima. All this gave Bhagyaraj a big mileage but he failed to cash in on it. In February 1989, Bhagyaraj launched the MGR Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam; the party failed to take off. Ramarajan also failed to cash in on his popularity. He was a Jayalalithaa loyalist and was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Tiruchendur constituency on the AIADMK ticket in 1998. In the 1999 elections, he was not given the ticket. His film and political careers have hit a roadblock now.

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Radha Ravi, AIADMK MLA.

T. Rajhendherr, actor, director and storywriter, among other things, recently founded his second political party, the Akila India Latchiya DMK (All India Ideal DMK). He was in the DMK and swore his loyalty to Karunanidhi, but he left it to launch the Thayaga Marumalarchi Kazhagam, with a sizable fan following. He returned to the DMK and was elected from the Park Town Assembly constituency in Chennai in 1996. He contested on the DMK ticket once again in 2001 and was defeated. Later he quit the party following differences with the leadership.

Actors Sarath Kumar and Napoleon, both belonging to the DMK, are a Rajya Sabha member and an MLA respectively. Another actor, Radha Ravi, represents Saidapet in Chennai for the AIADMK. Film actors Isari Velan and R. Soundarajan became AIADMK MLAs when MGR was Chief Minister. Soundarajan even became Minister. S.S. Chandran is an AIADMK Rajya Sabha member.

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