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Star Wars: Politics Takes Centre Stage in Tamil Film Actors' Decisions to Donate for COVID-19 Relief

File photo of actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth. (PTI)

File photo of actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth. (PTI)

Many of the prominent names in the industry are planning forays into electoral politics and don't want to be seen as aligning with anyone by donating to the central or state government funds.

On April 8, Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK tweeted through its official channel minister Kadambur Raju praising actor Ajith Kumar for donating towards the COVID-19 relief funds, and urging other actors to follow suit.

Plenty from the film fraternity ranging from Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to Nayanthara have contributed to the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), but only three top actors have so far donated to the state relief fund: Sivakarthikeyan, Ajith Kumar and Raghava Lawrence.

In comparison, many from the neighbouring Telugu industry including Prabhas, Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun, Junior NTR, Ram Charan and Pawan Kalyan have contributed to the central or state governments’ relief funds.

While donating, or not, is a personal choice and a factor of each person's situation, there are also possible political connotations to the hesitation of some of the stars.

"All actors have the intention to help workers, that's for sure," senior cinema journalist J Bismi tells News 18. "But they might not have liquid cash in hand. All of them will have money as assets. However, it must be said that if they decide, they can also change it to cash easily."

Among the notable big stars yet to donate to the state or central government's relief funds are Vijay, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. While Kamal heads Makkal Needhi Maiam and Rajinikanth is on the verge of entering politics actively, Vijay has hinted at a political future through many forums including cinema in the last few years.

Each has similar, yet different, reasons to not donate through the governments’ portals.

"The central and state governments have, in some way or the other, continuously given trouble to Vijay. So he is clear that he doesn't want to help people through them," says Bismi.

Vijay has run into issues with the AIADMK and BJP on multiple occasions, beginning with the BJP’s objections to potshots at their schemes in Mersal (2017) to AIADMK being upset with Sarkar (2018) criticising the state’s freebie culture.

More recently, in a move perceived as a way to silence the actor, Vijay's house was also raided by the income tax department while BJP workers protested at the Neyveli Lignite Corporation where the actor was shooting for the movie Master, saying they should not shoot at a ‘protected mining area’, although the crew had the requisite permissions.

All this has made Vijay wary of helping people through the two governments, and also reportedly upset with the FEFSI. Vijay is among the notable names yet to donate to the body.

"When he has been in trouble many times in the past, not many from the industry helped him out, including FEFSI. So he might think why he should help them," says Bismi.

"Like he did during the Kerala floods, he wants to help the people directly through his fans' association once the lockdown ends. It's the same formula as Rajini. His entire journey is similar to Rajini's. He wants to ensure that he gets the credit.”

Similarly, Rajinikanth and Kamal too prefer helping people directly through their parties, while ensuring their industry is taken care of.

FEFSI has 25,000 workers under it, of which 15,000 have been handed rations according to the federation’s head RK Selvamani. In a press conference on April 8, Selvamani said the fraternity has garnered Rs 2.45 crore while the total requirement amounts to Rs. 3.75 crore.

Bismi suggests that some from the fraternity, especially producers, are hesitant to donate to FEFSI as they do not want Selvamani to take credit.

G Dhananjayan, producer and founder-dean of BOFTA Film Institute, disagrees with the notion and says there is nothing wrong even if Selvamani takes credit.

“Every organisation needs a leader to collect the money and donate. What is wrong in RK Selvamani collecting everything and giving? He has to get the credit and debit. Individuals do not matter in this situation,” he says.

While Dhananjayan feels one shouldn't 'force' donations and only applaud those who come forward to help, Bismi says those who do not help even in this situation are 'betraying' the people.

"Rajini earns Rs 100 crore, Vijay earns Rs 80 crore. You can't force someone to donate, but an actor's salary is given by the people," he says.

"It's not a factor of their acting skills or their market. Even if you take it as a reflection of their market, the market is based on their film's victory. The victory is decided by the people, so the actors are obliged to give back when the people are in need. They are indebted to the people and now is a good opportunity to give back. Those who don't help even now are betraying the people who make them stars. More importantly, the crazy fans should know about their heroes. Some fans morph fake news reports saying their heroes donated Rs 25 crore, Rs 50 crore, etc. The hero worship then increases. Thus, it's important to speak the truth."

first published:April 11, 2020, 19:29 IST