Star power: How superstars like Rajinikanth, Vijay could determine outcome of TN elections

Anyone who follows Tamil Nadu politics even cursorily will know of the connection between the two leading parties — AIADMK and DMK — and the film industry, Kollywood.

Five out of the seven chief ministers in the last 50 years have been from Tinsel town. And every superstar in Kollywood is the subject of intense speculation over whether or not he will join politics and/or launch a party.

Rajinikanth. Image from IBNlive

Rajinikanth. Image from IBNlive

During election time, star power in Tamil Nadu can “sway” voters in a certain direction. From the days of the legendary MGR, cinema and politics have gone hand-in-hand. Consider the 2016 Tamil Nadu: It still remains a contest between five-time chief minister M Karunanidhi, 91, of the DMK — a former script writer — and AIADMK leader and current CM Jayalalithaa, 68, formerly an actress. And the rank outsider who is making a desperate bid for the chief minister’s chair is former action hero, Vijaykanth, 63.

For every political party in the state, the reigning Kollywood superstars (think Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vijay, Ajith) and their support — silent or otherwise — during elections is very important.

Rajesh Lakhoni, Tamil Nadu’s chief electoral officer says, “The stars have a huge influence in the state. We took the help of celebrities to popularise our TN 100 percent campaign, to create awareness about voting.”

The diehard fans of an actor — especially the youth — will vote only for a party which he perceives has a soft corner for his hero (or vice versa). The parties also subtly try to woo the stars by showing posters of their leaders’ closeness with a particular star. However, once the Dravidian parties come to power, they ignore these celebrities and try to play down their importance as they feel threatened by their star power. For instance, both Kamal Haasan and Vijay were targeted during their film releases, by the Jayalalithaa government.

Meanwhile, the big question is: on whose side is Rajinikanth? He has been unusually very quiet as his Kabali is all set for a release in July. The actor does not want to rub the two Dravidian majors the wrong way. Recently, the Kabaliteaser-trailer was used as a meme by a political party to poke fun at its rival. The buzz is that Rajinikanth is also avoiding meeting any political leader who wants his “blessings” (read: selfie) and has asked his fan clubs to stay neutral.

Vijay — one of the most popular actors in Tamil cinema whose latest film, Theri, has been declared a summer blockbuster — has passed the message through his fan clubs: vote according to your conscience. His fans say that the actor was constantly harassed by the Jayalalithaa government, and banned the release of his Thalaiva for two weeks. Although the actor is taking a neutral stand, his fan club members are openly campaigning for the DMK.

Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroopam was denied a release by the Jayalaitha government for two weeks. Recently, he had a run in with the state administration when he criticised the way they managed the recent Chennai floods.

Kamal is now in the US, shooting for his next film. Before his departure, he was asked if he would be voting. Kamal replied: “I will be starting work in Los Angeles for my new film and I will be there on voting day.” Kamal’s parting shot to political parties who distribute cash for votes was — “If a citizen accepts money for a vote, you will only get a thief as your leader”.