Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth and colour politics in Tamil Nadu: Between black and saffron, state set for multi-starrer blockbuster
A Rajinikanth as a singular political entity would be a formidable force. Kamal knows that. He would ride on his mass popularity, that is seen as cutting across caste lines, rural-urban divide and will have traction both among the affluent and the poor.
As children, most of us would have played the game 'Tipi Tipi Tap, what colour do you want?' — in a chorus, the kids ask one of the kids the question. He or she would say a particular colour and the others would grab the child who would be wearing an attire of the same colour, lest the first child touch them before they did so.
A political version of 'Tipi Tipi Tap, what colour do you want?' is being played out in Tamil Nadu. When Kamal Haasan, at an event at the Harvard University, was asked which "colour" he preferred, the actor replied "black". Kamal replied for friend Rajinikanth as well, saying "hue of his politics is saffron". And if Rajini's chosen hue was indeed saffron, Kamal said that their "alliance" was doubtful.
Till last week, both Kamal and Rajinikanth had a vague "only time will tell" response to the question whether the two will join hands to make a political casting coup. But once in the US, Kamal saw things in black and white. He was even dressed in black, white and a dark shade of grey to emphasise the hue he represented.
Right from the time he announced his intention to enter politics, Kamal has been clear his colour is not saffron. The actor choosing 'black' is significant as optically speaking, black subsumes all colours. It was perhaps the actor's subtle way of saying he will be an all-inclusive political entity.
If you read between the lines, Kamal also painted Rajinikanth into a corner. The BJP corner. Saffron in the modern Indian political context is taken to represent the BJP, which has not been able to taste electoral success in Tamil Nadu. Even in 2014, at the height of the Narendra Modi wave, despite cobbling up a rainbow alliance with several smaller parties, Jayalalithaa ran away with the election winning 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats. If the party has become a talking head in TV studio discussions in Chennai now, it is only because it is seen to have remote controlled the ruling AIADMK since Jayalalithaa's demise in December 2016.
A Rajinikanth as a singular political entity would be a formidable force. Kamal knows that. He would ride on his mass popularity, that is seen as cutting across caste lines, rural-urban divide and will have traction both among the affluent and the poor. Unlike Rajini, Kamal is seen as the more cerebral Kollywood product, more class than mass.
The Rajini mania will be further fuelled by his two releases in 2018 — 'Kaala' that casts him a do-gooder don, a messiah of the underprivileged and '2.0', a 3D extravaganza that will cement his place as India's entertainer number one. With disgust for political corruption and the quality of governance at an all-time high, an unblemished Rajinikanth will position himself as an alternative.
By pushing Rajini into the BJP's arms, as both would find common ground on "spiritual politics'', Kamal is possibly suggesting that the actor is just a mask, a front for the saffron party. People may even believe what Kamal says because ever since Rajini announced his entry into politics in December, BJP leaders from Tamil Nadu have been effusive in their welcome messages, insisting that the superstar should join hands with them.
Kamal is trying to send a message that the entire non-BJP space in Tamil Nadu could be his political maidan. Here, Kamal is trying to dip into the anti-BJP sentiment that runs deep in the southern state as the national party is seen more as a Hindi and Hindutva outfit, unpalatable to a Tamil Nadu, more comfortable with a Dravidian ethos.
It is significant that Kamal is trying to fix labels. It is pretty apparent the twain don't quite meet when it comes to a spiritual Rajini and a rationalist Kamal. "In religion, we are not the same school of thought. We are poles apart. It will absolutely come in the way of a political agreement. Unless he can change my rational mind," said Kamal.
In a column which was published in a vernacular magazine, Kamal wrote that his rationalist attitude ought not to be interpreted as an anti-Hindu position. "How can I be an enemy of the Hindus when my own brother and daughter are devout Hindus?'' he wrote. The emphasis is clear. That Kamal is a Hindu but not of the saffron variety.
Kamal will launch his political party on 21 February and bare details of what it stands for. "We will wait for his (Rajinikanth) manifesto to be out. It needs to be seen if these are compatible. Hence it is not a decision that can be taken now. Also both of us need to ponder if that is necessary," said Kamal, leaving the window just a bit open for a possible tie-up.
Where the two freshly minted politicians will match is their commitment to fight corruption and do something good for society. Kamal has spoken about adopting a village in every district of Tamil Nadu and Rajini has spoken about ushering in clean politics.
Like in films, there is always the possibility of a twist. Between now and the time of elections, it is quite possible that the two thespians of Tamil cinema realise that up against the political machine of the DMK and the AIADMK, there is a real risk of ending up as also-rans. In that case, do not rule out a multi-starrer production. After all, both know the value of clicking at the box office. And the stakes are far higher at the political box office than any of their movies so far.
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