Speculation is rife that Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil Gowda will make his political debut in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from the Mandya constituency. And like many others before him, Nikhil seems to believe that cinema is the perfect launchpad for a career in politics.
In his latest release Seetharama Kalyana, directed by A Harsha and produced by his mother Anitha Kumaraswamy, Nikhil leaves no stones unturned to build his image as a saviour and leader of the masses, especially Karnataka's farmers. The film has ample references to the hero worshiping his father, turning it into a tiring exercise for the viewers.
Riding on farmer sentiment
The hero, Aarya's (Nikhil) entry in the film is marked by an unremarkable action sequence. A poor farmer's bund in his paddy field has been destroyed by miscreants and the precious water is flowing out of the field. Nikhil chases down the miscreants, thrashes them with a single blow and makes them apologise to the farmer. He also goes out of his way to fix the bund and save the farmer from ruin.
"I may be from Bengaluru but my grandfather taught me how to love the land I come from. My father taught me how important the love of people is and elders like you taught me how to respect farmers," Nikhil Gowda says in his opening dialogue. An hour into the film and one begins to wonder how Aarya learnt to "love the land" from the non-existent grandfather, considering his father (played by Sharath Kumar) was orphaned at birth. But then, in real life, Nikhil's father and grandfather, HD Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda, are well-known to the audience, and that's all seems to have mattered to the makers.
The tedious political aspiration in the film becomes clear when you realise that unnecessary, jarring scenes involving farmers are woven into a family drama. In the film, Aarya is determined to rid the farmers of their woes when he sees an old man trying to kill himself. A supposed-to-be heart-wrenching scene follows, where Aarya learns that paying off loans (sub-text for loan waiver) is not enough. They need water. That's when Aarya comes up with the bombastic idea of solving the farmers' troubles by constructing a dam on a non-existent river. When a meeting is called to discuss the idea, Aarya is seen reciting the names of all the dams in the state.
The movie is also riddled with punch dialogues about how much Aarya loves his father, which of course, are references to his father in real life - HD Kumaraswamy. When Aarya is confronted with the villain, who wants to build a chemical factory on the land he has acquired for the dam, a fight breaks out.
"I am my father's visiting card," he says to the villain. The entire movie shows Aarya as the one being groomed to step into his father's shoes and this is doubly evident when he tells the executives of his company that "farmers are the true inventors".
"The world's great inventors are not the ones who invented light bulbs or vehicles but the farmers. Without food, we cannot live and they invented a way to help us live," Aarya says.
There is also a "bold" line where Aarya says he is his father's hero. "My father is my hero. I am my father's hero... My father lives and dies for farmers. He is a god-like individual," Aarya says in an intense face-off with the chemical factory baddies. There is also a scene where Aarya saves an ant from dying in a pothole. We don't know if the film intended to show him as an animal lover or if animal lovers are among the voters that Nikhil plans to woo in future. In any case, the scene was frustrating to watch and the ant probably died anyway.
Seetharama Kalyana also has a 12-year-old boy playing peeping tom and watching a woman change her clothes through a window. This passes off as "comedy" in the film - perhaps women voters are not so important after all for Nikhil?
The political context
Leaving aside the misogyny and over-the-top heroism which are rampant in Kannada cinema, one has to understand the dynamics of family politics in the JD(S) to know why exactly this formulaic film turned out to be the way it is. According to JD(S) sources, Kumaraswamy wants his son Nikhil Gowda to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the Mandya segment. Sources say that Kumaraswamy and his brother and Energy Minister HD Revanna want their respective sons to take over the party in Karnataka.
"There is a game of one upmanship between the brothers. Revanna's son Prajwal Revanna is going to get the ticket to contest from the Hassan segment. If Kumaraswamy waits for five years to launch his son into politics for the next Assembly elections in the state, it will be too late. Prajwal Revanna would have built up a bigger base than Nikhil. Kumaraswamy wants Nikhil to fill in his shoes," a JD(S) source told TNM.
By portraying Nikhil Gowda as a saviour of the Karnataka farmers, sources say that the stage is being set for Nikhil to become the next mass leader in the Gowda family.
"Unlike Prajwal Revanna, Nikhil Gowda has not built up a strong base for himself in Mandya. Prajwal Revanna has become a household name in Hassan. The same is not true for Nikhil. The movie is just a way to show that he too is dedicated to the farmers' cause, just like everyone in the Gowda family," the source added.
However, despite Kumaraswamy's efforts to persuade his father, Deve Gowda, to give Nikhil a ticket, the patriarch is reluctant as of now.
"There are a lot of things at work here. Kumaraswamy wants Nikhil to contest not just to solidify his power within the family, but to also ensure that the party does not lose in case the pre-poll alliance with the Congress falls flat," the JD(S) source said.
Political party insiders say that the Congress is not keen on letting go of the Lok Sabha segments in Old Mysuru, fearing that the JD(S) will destroy the grand old party's power in the region.
"Deve Gowda wants the party to get the tickets to contest from Mandya, Mysuru, Hassan, Chikkaballapura, Bengaluru Rural, Gulbarga, Bidar and a few other districts. Congress leaders don't want to give in because these are their party's strongholds in the region. If the pre-poll alliance fails, then Kumaraswamy must hold on to his fiefdom - Mandya - and the best way to do so would be to field his son Nikhil," the source added.
*Views expressed are author's own