Film roles that pave the way for politics

IN Media Practice | 09/09/2002



Film roles that pave the way for politics  



Rema  Nilakantan



Tamil cinema produces a rash of movies where the male lead is a roughneck who cares about the poor. Such roles are a stepping stone for a career in politics.  



There are no two opinions about  the fact that cinema has a cult following in Tamil Nadu. The cinema crazy audiences of this State idolize actors and actresses even to the extent of building temples dedicated to them such as the one for the actress Kushboo.  Popular personalities of the screen are given titles such as  ‘Makkal Thilakom’ (Crown of the masses), ‘Nadikar Thilakom’ (Crown of the actors), ‘Elaya Dalapathi’ (Young Prince) and so on.   Most male actors of the day strive for such titles,  and select  scripts with an eye to  extending their image as men of the masses, for that is what sells. According to some estimates there are nearly 50 lakh people thronging to the theatres everyday in Tamil Nadu, mostly belonging to the lower income brackets, who in film parlance are the masses.


This cultivated image building is achieved by playing characters that work for the upliftment of the downtrodden. For the majority of the poor, their thickest foes are the rich. The moviemakers carefully exploit this.


Rajnikanth is one of the most popular figures of Tamil Nadu, both on screen and otherwise. He owes his tremendous popularity to the roles enacted by him, where he played characters who worked to promote the well being of the poor.  His recent venture, Baba revolves around him and can be considered as an exercise in introspection by the actor. The film combines a mix of politics and spirituality. We have Baba (Rajni) whiling away his time in the company of friends, drink and beedis before he wakes up to a spiritual summons. Though the film was expected to reveal some of his future plans vis-à-vis politics, the actor  as yet seems to be largely undecided on that front.


Closing matching Rajnikanth in terms of fan following in Tamil cinema is the inimitable Kamlahasan. His versatility is displayed by the wide range of characters that he has etched. The movie Nayakan, directed by Mani Ratnam  with Kamlahasan playing the lead role, could be called a classic. The part of Velu Naikar who is a saviour of the poor was played to perfection by the actor. This movie won him rave reviews as well as his National Award for the Best Actor. Devoid of any frills, the film remarkably portrayed the ills of the modern society. The hero stands up for the rights of the poor even at all odds.


Playing a rowdy with a golden heart seems to have caught on the fancy of the current generation of actors. Every third film of today has the lead actor depicted in this manner. Sporting a beard or stubble, a tonsured head and with a handkerchief knotted around their necks, they deliver painstakingly written, hard-hitting one-liners. And, not to be avoided, is the cigarette, or its desi version, the beedi. These characters collectively bring back smoking into fashion. They attempt to reform others, but blissfully blow out smoke fumes! But, who ever said practise what you preach?


They invariably wear a characteristic scowl to establish their roughness. But, in between all the preaching and fist fighting, these characters find time to dance and romance in exotic locales. Keeping company with pretty damsels, often imported from Bollywood adds that extra sizzle and spice. Clothed in designer apparel, they execute the dancing drill to stomach-churning lyrics and some foot-tapping beats.


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