Politics and Cinema are
two things in Tamil Nadu that make heads turn. What makes them stand out is the
fact that Tamilians take both their politicians and actors seriously. It is
also interesting to note that they become jubilant when both the identities
blur and become the same. The roots of the seemingly straightforward Tamil film
industry are very closely connected to the ever-complicated Dravidian politics.
In fact, many a times, they are interdependent. Thus, to understand the
workings of the most successful field in the entertaining industry in Tamil
Nadu, i.e. the film industry, it is important to understand the influence of
politics in the film industry.
Ever since the origin of
the Dravidian parties, there is no other third party that is strong. For
decades, it is either the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or the All India Anna
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) that comes to power. The demise of J.
Jayalalitha on 5 December 2016 jolted the whole of Tamil Nadu, leaving them in
chaos, agitation and a series of riots and protests about her successor. Since
then, the government has not been quite the same.
A lot of controversies were spun around the ministers,
MLAs and party members in power. All social media domains were flooded with
unsatisfactory remarks about the party’s irresponsibility and them splitting into
different groups. Critics expected that the government would topple but what
caused a greater shock to the masses was the tentative entry of the two
greatest actors/performers/heroes of the age, into politics: Thalaivar (Leader) Padma Vibhushan Rajinikanth
and Ulaganayagan (Hero of the World)
Padma Bhushan Kamal Haasan. Rajinikanth has confirmed his entry into politics. He also mentioned about wanting to form a
separate political party and follow “spiritual politics” to fight corruption in
the state. On the contrary, Kamal Haasan has not expressed his political plans
Sivaji Ganesan, a popular
actor, was a member of the DMK till 1955 and joined Congress in 1961 and
subsequently became the leader of the short-lived political party, Tamizhaga
Munnetra Munnani (TMM) in 1988. He then became the president of the Janata
Dal’s Tamil faction in 1989. He had also once remarked that it wasn’t for
personal reasons, but he was forced to enter politics for the sake of other “professional politicians”.
Thilagam (People’s King) MGR was one of the most iconic
figures of the Tamil film industry. He then became one of the most important
members of the DMK and then formed his own party (AIADMK) against his
friend-turned-rival M. Karunanidhi. He was the first actor to become the Chief
Minister in 1977 by defeating DMK.
Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi,
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for five times, is the first leader of the popular
political party DMK, because C.K. Annadurai left the leader post empty for
Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy). He was also a screenplay writer who propagated the
beliefs and ideals of the then Dravidian movements he was involved in. Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary leader)
J. Jayalalitha, a popular actress, was the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK, and
then became the Chief Minister of the state for fourteen years between 1991 and
personalities have shaped both politics and the film industry with their
popularity among the general public while the directors Mani Ratnam and Shankar
continue to influence the industry. Although they vary in their ideologies and
styles of film making, one cannot deny their contribution to the industry and
the society through their films. While Mani Ratnam uses the realist approach,
Shankar focuses on high budgeted films and is a pioneer of the vigilante films.
This paper will focus on
the manner in which the two broad fields of cinema and politics are
inter-connected, how they influence each other to the way it has become and how
they impact all sections of the Tamilian society.
Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.
and Anthony C. Neidhart, remarked that the South Indian films were the major
vehicle of the Dravidian movements. This, they say, can be evaluated by the
victory of the DMK in Tamil Nadu in the 1967 elections. Also, according to
their survey conducted in 1969 of a 1000
people equally from urban Madras City and the rural areas of North and South
Arcot and Tanjavur districts, Hardgrave Jr. and Neidhart inferred that Sivaji
was more popular among people belonging to all income levels in both rural and
urban areas. Apart from this, the above mentioned facts about Sivaji and MGR,
Secondary sources like
newspaper articles, books on Tamil cinema and politics, with special references
to late. Sivaji Ganesan, late. M. G. Ravichandran, late. J. Jayalalitha, M.
Karunanidhi, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Mani Ratnam and S. Shankar will be used
to study on the above-mentioned topic. Tamil films that are important to the
subject, and those that help in understanding Dravidian politics and Tamil
cinema better would be analysed. A few of the films that would be studied are Iruvar (1997), Mudhalvan (1999), Gentleman
(1993), Aayitha Ezhuthu (2004), Madras (2014) and Ko (2011).
Apart from this, trusted
and verified sources from the internet like journals and research articles
would be studied and analysed to find the research gaps.
The paper will most
importantly focus on the origin of a political field that depended on the film
industry for propaganda, and on the origin of a film industry where actors and
producers could use their influences in the society to venture into politics.
For years, most Dravidian
parties have used media, especially films, quite effectively and efficiently,
for propagating their policies and ideologies. To understand the formation of
the government, it is important to understand the people who form the ruling
party, their careers prior to their entry to politics and how they managed to
The film stars who
support these parties in their films and through their fan base are placed in
high positions within these parties. This can be understood from the leaders of
the ruling parties of Tamil Nadu. Since 1967 onwards, Tamil Nadu has been
almost always been ruled by popular celebrities from the Tamil film industry
starting from C. N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M. G. Ramachandran and J.
So, the important
findings would be about the motives behind their (actors/artists/technicians)
entry into politics.
Rajinikanth had recently
mentioned in one of his interviews that, it was time for him to be a part of
politics, not because he was interested in power and money, but it seemed
necessary that he enter politics to save the state from its bad condition. So,
almost all the politicians, till date, have given similar statements of how
they came into the field to serve the public and not for name and fame. But the
fact remains that the whole system has gone corrupt and everyone is playing the
blame game. Will the new entries Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth be any different?
Is this the breakthrough that the state needs after a series of recognised
Hardgrave, Robert L, and
Anthony C. Neidhart. “Films and Political Consciousness in Tamil
Nadu.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 10, no. 1/2, 11 Jan. 1975, www.jstor.org/stable/4536796.
En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Tamil cinema and
Dravidian politics. online Available at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_cinema_and_Dravidian_politics Accessed 10
(2018). Is Rajinikanth Really the Change Tamil Nadu’s Politics Needs? –
The Wire. online The Wire. Available at:
Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.