In September 2008, just days after Telugu 'Megastar' Chiranjeevi launched his Praja Rajyam Party, I was travelling with him in Srikakulam. This was his first interaction with the people of Andhra Pradesh in a political avatar.
One of his associates later recounted the reaction of a woman at a roadside meeting in the coastal district. "Isn't this Chiranjeevi?'" she asked. Upon receiving a reply in the affirmative, she asked if Chiranjeevi is supporting the 'hand' (Congress' symbol) or the 'bicycle' (Telugu Desam's symbol). "No, he has his own party now," the associate is believed to have told her. That confused the woman, who wanted to know the reasons for him to launch his own political outfit though other options existed.
It was to be one of the chief reasons for Chiranjeevi's political failure; his inability to articulate how his party's fare will be any different from the existing players. "He did not understand the importance of putting forth a cogent political argument on the need for a new party," the former associate said.
Another mistake was to believe everybody who came to his meetings would also vote for him. The late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, during campaigning for the 2009 elections, told me that people love seeing their favourite film stars like Chiranjeevi or Junior NTR (who was campaigning for the TDP) up close without having to pay an entry fee.
"It's like a free outing. But it doesn't mean they will also vote for these stars. Inside the polling booth, they make an informed choice based on who they think is good for the state," he told me.
Another mistake Chiranjeevi made was to assume the entire Kapu electorate, concentrated mainly in coastal Andhra, would vote for him since he hailed from the community. This expectation was based on the fact that the Reddy-dominated Congress and the Kamma-dominated TDP never gave the Kapus their due.
But Chiranjeevi failed to understand the inter-caste dynamics that came into play after his entry — between backward classes and Kapus, between Kammas and Kapus, and between Reddys and Kapus. He paid the price for not stitching together a caste-focused alliance to back his political plunge, as he lost from Palacole Assembly constituency in the Kapu belt of West Godavari to a non-Kapu candidate.
Before he stepped into politics, Chiranjeevi had acted in Tagore, the Telugu remake of Ramana starring Vijaykanth, another actor-turned-politician. Vijaykanth's high point was when he contested the 2011 elections in alliance with Jayalalithaa, winning 29 seats. But he failed to capitalise on it and last year, his DMDK could not even open its account in Tamil Nadu.
"Vijaykanth was not much of an actor. His fan following is also way lesser than Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. The media projected him as an alternative to the two Dravidian parties, which he was not. His party is practically run by his wife and brother-in-law," says political analyst TN Gopalan.
Vijaykanth has now been reduced to just being a meme delight, constantly ridiculed in the digital space.
Haasan's statement that he wants to be chief minister gives me a sense of deja vu. Because in 2008-09, Chiranjeevi uttered the exact same words. Which is why it is important for Haasan to draw lessons from the mistakes his two friends in tinseltown made.
He needs to be clear who his target audience is. A "one Kamal Haasan for all Tamil Nadu voters" kind of messaging, as Utopian as it may sound, will not work in politics. As a star whose movies are consumed by everyone, Kamal Haasan would appeal to everyone. But the way Tamil Nadu politics works, the fact that he is an Iyengar could be a minus factor in a state where anti-Brahminism is rampant. The actor has to be clear which socio-economic constituency he wants to appeal to.
The Aam Aadmi Party that he may ally with has zero presence in Tamil Nadu, and the CPM, which could be his comrade in arms, is a marginal player.
In a post-Jayalalithaa Tamil Nadu, where DMK chief M Karunanidhi also is indisposed, Kamal Haasan fancies an opening for himself. But in a state full of alphabet soup political formations, he needs to articulate what different cuisine he has to offer. The fact that his administrative experience is zero will also be seen as a liability.
In order to ensure that he does not go the Vijaykanth way, Haasan has to ensure the party is not him alone. In films, the actor has displayed a tendency to be writer, producer, director, singer, lyricist, choreographer, and more — because he is so brilliant. In politics, he will have to ensure he does not play all the roles.
Another big challenge for Haasan would be to raise funds in a transparent way for his political innings. People close to him say he is under serious financial strain, something which even Rajinikanth alluded to at a function after Kamal Haasan's elder brother's demise. His 2015 release Thoongavanam, and before that Vishwaroopam in 2013 left a huge hole in his bank balance. Two more movies Vishwaroopam 2 and Sabaash Naidu are half complete and he needs funds to see them to the theatres.
With so much work to do, both in the cinema and political space, it is indeed a case of "picture abhi baaki hai" for Kamal Haasan.
Published Date: Sep 23, 2017 08:40 am | Updated Date: Sep 23, 2017 08:40 am