In 1975, when veteran Tamil film director late K.Balachander gave Rajinikanth his first entry into the film world, he cast him as a villain for a role that lasted a few seconds in the climax of the film ‘Apoorva Ragangal’. The hero in that film was Kamal Haasan.
The two starred in a few movies together after that, like '16 Vayathinile', and in all of them Kamal Haasan was the lead actor and Rajinikanth was in the supporting cast as villain. They starred together only till Rajinikanth broke through as a hero, lead actor and then superstar.
Since then they never starred together, instead there was a phase of perceived competition, in the 1980s, and a quest to become the bigger star. Eventually, Rajinikanth became the undisputed superstar of Tamil cinema and Kamal Haasan had to be content with the title of being the superior actor.
All through, they had projected an image of friendship at a personal level, at least in public, and shared kind praises for the other, especially Rajinikanth.
This is just a brief recollection of the cinematic journey of two ageing stars now trying to write a political script. Neither has had any experience in electoral politics or administration, but in 2018 they want to become the messiahs of change in Tamil Nadu.
Firstly, can they come together? It is highly unlikely because their image as superheroes of Tamil cinema will ensure that neither can work under the shadow of the other. Politics may be an art of dealing with equals, but political parties and even alliances are always about one lead partner and smaller players. Even seasoned politicians, driven by desperate compulsions, find it impossible to stick together.
Rajninikanth is clearly the more popular amongst the two and Kamal Haasan would not accept a supporting role. End of discussion. This is why it seems unlikely that the two can come together.
Secondly, if a miracle brings them together, they may turn into a cinematic–political satire and lose credibility as a serious political force. As things stand, the two hardly seem to have made a measurable impact. They have not even spelt out their ideological positions.
Rajinikanth speaks of ‘spiritual politics’ and Kamal Haasan, in several of his films, has questioned religion and conventional spiritualism. They are both busy with upcoming releases and have hardly spent time with masses and working on grass root politics.
In other words, though there is still no clarity on what they represent, they seem poles apart. They are both fishing for political space in the midst of the political vacuum in the state after the demise of J.Jayalalithaa, but it’s not certain if either will make an impact.
Thirdly, if they do not come together who does it benefit? The obvious answer would be the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In the absence of J.Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK in disarray, it is that space that Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan or any other political force will have to occupy. If there is a split in that space, it will only strengthen the DMK.
Given that both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth would get support from a section of the electorate that wants a fresh face in Tamil Nadu politics, the two of them contesting for that space separately would only make each other weaker.
A hitherto unproven conspiracy theory in the state is that while the BJP seems to be tacitly supporting Rajinikanth, the DMK may tacitly support Kamal Haasan as a counter to dent Rajnikanth’s chances. There is no evidence to substantiate such a political calculation, but it cannot be discarded completely either.
There is also a misplaced belief among some political observers that popularity in cinema translates into political success in Tamil, and to an extent Telugu politics. This belief is absurd.
While several stars have attempted a political entry in Tamil Nadu, only two have had phenomenal success – M.G.Ramachandran (MGR) and J.Jayalalithaa. M.G.R had a long history in the Dravidian politics before he launched his own political party.
He was the treasurer of the DMK and after the demise of the party’s founder C.N.Annadurai, he had to leave the party due to a rift with M.Karunanidhi, who took charge as Chief Minister and president of the DMK.
M.G.R launched the AIADMK and it was a mix of his popularity as a star, acumen as a politician and the fact that he was perceived as a victim of Karunanidhi’s politics that led to the success of the party. He wasn’t an instant one election politician.
Jayayalaithaa was a Rajya Sabha MP and propaganda secretary of the AIADMK under M.G.R. She had to fight a severe, even brutal, battle to gain control of the party and emerged Chief Minister only in an alliance with the Congress in the immediate aftermath of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
This is to reiterate that the two actors emerging successful in politics had more to do with their political experience and circumstances rather than their popularity as actors alone.
Veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan attempted a political entry, but failed. So have a new generation stars like Vijayakanth. They have a small presence, but are nowhere close to rewriting the script in the state.
Even in Telugu politics, N.T.Rama Rao swept the state as the custodian of Telugu pride. In 1983, NTR won after the Congress high command dismissed a series of its Chief Ministers and a perceived insult to Telugu pride, not because his popularity as a star turned into electoral success.
Since then there are no star political stories. Chiranjeevi, despite his popularity and crowd appeal, failed to make a major impact and that is a case in point.
In Tamil Nadu, every election season sees a few stars attempting a political rise, but they fade soon after an election ends. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are big stars, but they are yet to prove their mettle and it is clearly each one for his own in this race.
This is something like a Superman versus Batman political script with the mighty Thor and Odin (M.Karunanidhi and his son M.K.Stalin) watching the plot unfold!
(TM Veeraraghav is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)