51 stories in Chennai

Why Tamils like their politicians to be movie stars

Elections / Gangai Karai Puram,Thygaraya Nagar

Manolakshmi Pandiarajan

5 days ago

My heart is touched when the world wakes up at the sight of the rising sun
and I get reminded of the days when King Chera’s flag flew high on the Himalayan peaks

- Lyrics fromAnbe Vaa(1966)

I wasn’t around in 1966, but as a child growing up in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, I have watchedAnbe Vaa(Come Darling)many, many times. And like thousands of my generation, and the generation before, I enjoyed it immensely.

I just could not figure out though why the hero, the unparalleledM Gopalan Ramachandran (MGR), was singing such a song in a romantic comedy. True the film was set in Simla, so there was cause to look to the Himalayas. But why was he interested so much in the rising sun? And why on earth was he wearing that red-and-black striped jacket all the time?

It was much later that I came to understand thatMGR was the face of Tamil Nadu’s major political party, theDravida Munettra Kazhagam (DMK). The rising sun was its party symbol, and its flag hadred-and-black stripes. AndMGR made sure all his films carried signs of his political stance. He propagated the philosophy ofC N Annadurai, the founder of DMK, through his films. MGR was the DMK’s facetillhe left the party to start the Anna Dravida Munettra Kazhagam in the 1970s.

Coming from a family of ardent MGR fans, I grew up watching pretty much all MGR movies. More to the point, I got to witness the kind of sway he held over his followers. My grandfather, who became spellbound when MGR appeared on the silver screen, was one among the millions of die-hard MGR followers, and he remained a loyal ADMK man to his death.

Such was the charisma of MGR. He used his immense popularity as a movie star to ascend the political ladder and become chief minister of the movie-crazy Tamil Nadu.That action was not without consequence. It led many Tamil actors to attempt the same feat, with varying levels of success, to the point that Tamil politics and films are inexorably intertwined in a way seldom seen elsewhere.

But wait, was it MGR who used films for political gains?Or was it politics that used MGR to mobilise masses?

And why is that the Tamils are so susceptible to charm of the movie stars?

Arts and drama have always been part of the Tamil culture.For instance, thetherukoothu, the street theatre that depicted stories from the Indian epics, is a way of life for the Tamils, dating back to the Sangam period of 3rd and 4th century AD.Cinema replaces such ancient art forms, and the Tamils, who have always enjoyed such entertainment immensely, have transferred theiradulationfrom the heroes of old to the heroes of the silver screen. Chennai the capital of the state is the hub of the Tamil Film Industry, the Anna flyover, which is located at the heart of the city is also called the Gemini flyover because the flyover was constructed at the area where the Gemini Studios a leading production house was located.

The DMK was one of the first parties to realise the potential movies held for politics, and act on it in a significant manner through MGR and his films. It was theDMK, under the leadership of Annadurai, who took film seriously as a vehicle of political mobilisation.

An excellent orator, writer and a theatre artist, Annadurai himself was part of the film fraternity. He debuted as ascreen writer in 1948 with the filmNallathambi.The film was against the Zamindari system, and Annadurai went on to script many films such asVellaikari, Rangoon Radha,andOr Iravu,all of which had the ideas of self-respect, women’s rights, and anti-Braminism.There were other movie stars — S S Rajendran and Shivaji Ganesan, to name two — who believed in Annadurai’s ideas and joined him.

“Their films introduced symbols and references to the DMK, and the party rode the rising popularity of cinema,” writes Professor Robert L Hardgrave in his paperPolitics and the film in Tamil Nadu. “Film artists brought glamour and electoral support to the DMK, and actors graced the platforms of party rallies.”

The strategy attracted scorn from other mainstream politicians initially. Erik Barnouw and S Krishnawamy write in their bookIndian Filmhow K Kamaraj, who was then president of the Congress Party, scoffed at the idea: “How can there be government by actors?”

Unfortunately for Kamaraj, there did come about government — governments, actually — by actors. Shivaji Ganesan was the first to rise to fame and become the face ofDMK. But he did not stay with the party for long. He went on to join the Congress, and always preferred to keep his movies and politics separate.

It was then that MGR became the face of DMK. All his filmspropagatedDMK ideas. Dialogue andsongs were carefully crafted to hint at the political stance of the actor and promote the party among the masses. InVivasayi(Farmer)1967,for example, MGR sings: ‘There might be many flags of many parties in the country, butthe only flag that can fly high is the flag of prosperity’. When he sings about the flag of prosperity, the DMK flag is shown in the background.

Aroor Das, who penned scripts for many MGR films, has written about how particular the actor was that all his movies was pro-DMK and nothing his character did hurt the sentiments of the party. And this is evident in movies such asNeethikku Thalain Vangu, Sirithu Vazha Vendum, Meenava Nanban,andMaduraiyay Meeta Sundarapandi.

MGR, S S Rajendran and Shivaji Ganesan were all actors who rose to fame with the support of DMK. DMK used films intelligently to reach the masses. This set an example to the future generation of actors. People of Tamil Nadu have been tuned to watch films as a part of political propaganda. Today we have a number of actors-turned-politicians. Vijayakanth, Sarathkumar and Karthik are good examples.

News of actors joining politics is common in Tamil newspapers. It seems to have become a tradition of the state. Recently Nirmala, a contemporary of J Jayalalithaa, the present chief minister who herself has donned the female lead in more than 20 MGR movies, joined the All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam.Actors like Kushboo, Vadivelu, and Radhika have campaigned for different parties.

Tamil Nadu has seen a total of 10 chief ministers since Independence. Of the 10,five have been from the film industry: C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, MGR, V N Annadurai and J Jayalalithaa.

Politics and films are two branches of the same tree in Tamil Nadu. Years of enculturation have primed the massesto identify an actor who wants to be the future leader of the state from the dialogue he or she delivers in films. Elsewhere in India, there arefilm stars like Jaya Bachchan, Jayaprada, and Shatrughan Sinha who are active in politics. But the number of stars who enter politics in Tamil Nadu is higher. That is the tradition the Dravidian parties have created.

Kamaraj was wrong. This is the state where youcanhave government by actors.

Illustration: Safa Tharib

This coverage is part of Project India, a journalism initiative organised by Bournemouth University, England, in association with WoNoBo.com.

Narendra Modi to meet Rajnikant in Chennai today

Elections / Poes Garden,Teynampet

WoNoBo Editor

9 days ago

It doesn't matter if he is not involved in politics, the command Rajnikanth holds over people is unparalleled. BJP's Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi seems to realise that. According to sources, Modi will be holding a personal meeting with Rajnikanth at the latter's residence in Poes Garden. Mr Modi is in the city to attend a public meeting and will be meeting the actor later in the day. The reasons for the visit have not yet been specified. Looks like no one leaves Chennai without meeting Rajni.

Chennai's Sri Ramachandra University gets modern Sports Sciences Centre

News / Iyyappanthangal

WoNoBo Editor

about 1 month ago

The famous Sri Ramachandra University & Medical College in Chennai, this week launched the Arthroscopy and Sports Sciences Centre. Chief MinisterJayalalithaa inaugurated the new centre via video conferencing.

Spread over 1.6 lakh square feet area, the centre boasts of a team of highly qualified and experienced professionals along with international experts in various key areas like sports medicine, physiotherapy, biokinetics, biomechanics, nutrition and sports psychology.

Besides treating sports-related injuries, the centre will also help nurture sports fitness, enhance performance and prevent injuries. It will have an isokinetic testing and training lab, sports rehabilitation unit with physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, multi-sports testing and training hall, a world class fitness centre with an indoor running tract, a yoga hall, a bio-mechanical lab and exercise physiology lab with state-of-the-art equipment to train sportspersons.

The modern complex has been designed by Alex Robertson of South Africa, an international architect who has designed many sports institutions around the world. Way to go Chennai, we say!

Ace filmmaker Balu Mahendra passes away

News / Vadapalani

WoNoBo Editor

2 months ago

Film doyen Balu Mahendra, a winner of five National Film awards, passed away at the Vijaya Hospital in the early hours of Thursday morning. The 74-year-old had been admitted in a critical condition earlier in the day, and died post a heart attack.

With an illustrious career spanning four decades of filmmaking in the roles of a director, screenwriter, editor and cinematographer, he had only recently made his debut in front of the camera in the film ‘Thalaimuraigal’. He had called it a time to embrace change, in an interview in December last year.

Mahendra gave Hindi cinema the fantastic Kamal Haasan- Sridevi starrer 'Sadma', which won two National film awards, as well as numerous stunning Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada films over the years. He was counted among the pioneering names for his camera technique and story telling prowess in the Indian film industry. His death has left behind some daunting shoes to fill.

Artists and art lovers converge in Chennai

News / Chokkalingam Nagar,Gopalapuram

WoNoBo Editor

2 months ago

The current week will see artists and art lovers head to the city for the 'Art Chennai' festival. The festival began on the 8th of February and will go on till the 16th. In its third year, the festival will enable viewers to buy works from prominent artists like P Gopinath, C Douglas, Reena Kallat and TV Santosh at the starting price of Rs 500. The venues for the festival include the Cholamandal Artists' Village, Stella Maris College, British Council, Lalit Kala Akademi and the Hyatt Regency among others. This is the perfect opportunity for art lovers to buy some stunning artworks at dirt cheap prices.

Srinath Gunalan's House

Personal / Ramakrishnapuram,West Mambalam

Vegneshwaran Vasudevan Ramakrishnan

3 months ago

Vegnesh's bike. Hero Honda Glamour is parked outside the gate when this photo was taken.!!!!

High Court plays fairy godmother to convict

News / High Court

WoNoBo Editor

3 months ago

The Madras High court decided to play fairy-godmother to 42-year-old murder convict Somasundaram by granting him permission to wed his 27-year-old advocate fiancee A Aruna. Somasundaram aka. Somu, a one-time underworld don, accused of at least 15 murders, is serving a life sentence. He was granted a 10-day parole for this happy occasion as a reward for his exemplary behaviour in prison.

The once notorious gangster had been convicted in the murder of former MLA M K Balan in December 2001. He met Aruna, an understudy to advocate Puzhalendhi who represented Somu. The two fell in love and finally tied the knot on Sunday, in a ceremony surrounded by gun-toting policemen and several infamous gangsters all decked up in traditional finery at a temple in MKB Nagar. We understand that love is blind, but in this case, we hope it’s also careful.

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Fashion / Thygaraya Nagar

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3 months ago

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Students stone buses, traffic at Nandanam Circle, Chennai

News / Fanepet,Nandanam

WoNoBo Editor

3 months ago

Nandanam college students seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Some students from the college were taken in by the police for pelting stones at the police and disrupting oncoming traffic.

The trouble began when a group of students decided to celebrate 'bus day', and wanted to stop the bus. The police stepped in and restrained them from doing so. But, as soon as the students made it within the campus, some of them started pelting stones at the police. This turned the Nandanam circle into a very risky place for commuters. Traffic had to be diverted to prevent serious injuries. The authorities also arrested some of them.

Woman delivers baby on Chennai flight

News / St Thomas Mount

WoNoBo Editor

3 months ago

There are some things air hostesses can never prepare for. This morning, a woman aboard a Kuwaiti airlines flight arriving at Chennai delivered a baby mid air. The woman, a resident of Andhra Pradesh was on board the flight that arrived at 4.20 in the morning. Authorities reported that both the mother and child are safe and doing well. Hopefully, the customs allow this parcel to clear through.

Kamal Haasan felicitated with the Padma Bhushan award

News / Lubdhi Colony,Teynampet

WoNoBo Editor

3 months ago

Kamal Haasan's residence at Chennai's Eldam's road must have been a joyous place this Republic Day. The actor was included in the list of several prominent individuals from various fields to be felicitated with the Padma Bhushan awards. He was also one of six awardees from the state of Tamil Nadu. The others include classical musician Vikku Vinayakam, lyricist Vairamuthu, cinematographer Santosh Sivan among others. The actor was also awarded with the Padma Shri in the year 1990. This is another feather in the cap for the National award winner.

Magic bullet causes alarm at Chennai Airport

News / St Thomas Mount

WoNoBo Editor

3 months ago

This should take some charm off the use of amulets. A student from Andaman, who had come into the city for an examination, spent hours at the Airport police station today trying to explain his amulet. Hardeep S, was travelling back to the islands by the morning flight, after attending an examination. Unfortunately for him, he was wearing a bullet casing around his neck. This set off alarm bells at the airport. Although the cartridge was a used one, and was called a lucky charm by its wearer, the authorities took no chance and detained Hardeep at the airport. They also sent out a message to his family to come and confirm the story. Till that happens, Hardeep will have to, literally, bite the bullet and hope his luck turns.