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Poles Apart, Can Rajini and Kamal Recreate Their Cine Magic for a Political Blockbuster?

File photo of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. (PTI)

File photo of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. (PTI)

Though both Tamil superstars announced their political intentions around the same time after the passing away of former chief ministers J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, it took a couple of years for them to think of coming together.

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Kavitha Muralidharan

In one of their last films together, titled Allavuddinum Arputha Vilakkum (Aladdin and the Magic Lamp), superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan failed to charm their fans. The 1979 motion picture didn’t just come a cropper, it particularly left Rajini followers disheartened because of his role – a villain to begin with, he would turn into a friend of Kamal, but essentially playing second fiddle. Rajinikanth, by then a celebrity, was already commanding a loyal fan following, despite being a late entrant to cinema.

Exactly forty years later, the Rajini-Kamal duo – after doing over a dozen films together in the 1970s – might stage a comeback again, this time in the political arena.

In a delightful ‘coincidence’, when Rajinikanth spoke of another arputham (magic) waiting to happen in Tamil politics recently at an event to felicitate Kamal Haasan’s 60 years in Tamil cinema, he set tongues wagging all over again. “It was a miracle that Edappadi Palaniswami continued to rule after four months. Similarly, there could be another miracle too,” he said. Speculation was rife that he was hinting at his own political entry and its success, despite Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) consistently dismissing such possibilities.

Over the next few days, the two actors gave separate statements saying they were “ready to work together for the welfare of the state if the need arises”. The remarks came as a surprise despite the evident camaraderie the actors shared on their professional front. The two – like in cinema after the 1970s – were expected to chart different courses in politics. For one, Rajinikanth spoke of spiritual politics as his calling, while Kamal Haasan, an avowed atheist, said his party Makkal Needhi Maiam’s (MNM) approach will be “centrist”. While Kamal insisted that his party will be an alternative to the Dravidian parties in the state, Rajini was seen as a natural ally to the BJP till recently. In thinking of a coalition with Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth seems to have effectively thwarted the plans of the BJP to use his political entry and gain a stronger foothold in Tamil Nadu.

Rajinikanth’s interest in politics – if not his intention to take the actual plunge – never left room for any doubt. Since 1996, when he made his first assertive remark against the J Jayalalithaa regime, Rajini has been on the political centre stage, often dropping hints of a plunge and occasionally being evasive. Like actor, filmmaker and chief minister late MG Ramachandran (MGR), Rajinikanth had carefully constructed a macho, do-gooder image through his films, though the similarities are likely to end there. Kamal Haasan, on the other hand, neither used his cinema to build a possible political career nor betrayed any such intention till about two years ago.

But once he announced his decision to form a political party, Kamal went all out – contesting the Lok Sabha elections and touring the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu. In the parliamentary polls, the MNM managed to get a creditable vote share – finishing third in many urban constituencies. Rajinikanth, though, is yet to announce the setting up of his political party even as the fans’ organisation Rajini Makkal Mandram (RMM) is said to be doing the groundwork.

Though both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan announced their political intentions around the same time after the passing away of bigwigs and former chief ministers Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and M Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), it took a couple of years for them to think of coming together.

The two years have already witnessed definitive changes in Tamil Nadu’s political scenario. While the DMK had a proper succession plan in place, the AIADMK was left rudderless after Jayalalithaa’s death. But in these two years, the AIADMK seems to have tided over the crisis with Edappadi Palaniswami managing to emerge as a political figure to reckon with. The uneasiness between him and his immediate rival in the party, deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, has been put to rest, at least temporarily. But it is anybody’s guess what course the AIADMK would take after the release of VK Sasikala early next year. A section of party leaders appear keen to welcome Sasikala, now serving a prison term in a graft case, back into the party fold, indicating simmering discontent with the present leadership. However, the AIADMK amended its bylaws this week mandating a minimum of five years uninterrupted membership in the party to contest for all posts, including top positions of coordinator and co-coordinator, seen as a bid to stop Sasikala and her aides.

For now, the AIADMK has managed to ward off talks about a leadership vacuum in the party – something that prompted both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to take the plunge. The actors probably now needed the right kind of momentum to kindle a new interest in their political courses. Their alliance could just be the suitable one.

In cinema, they mutually decided to part ways after growing too big in stature, making it difficult for filmmakers to accommodate their star value and satisfy both sets of fans. Since then, there have always been rumours about them coming together again and, every time the grapevine goes abuzz, it has never failed to generate some curiosity. For many, it’s an arputham waiting to happen since 1979. The actors perhaps hope that they can revitalise a similar kind of curiosity in Tamil Nadu politics. But it may take more than curiosity to sustain this arputham.

(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are personal)


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