Actor Sri Reddy, who came into the limelight when she stripped in public to expose the ‘casting couch’ culture, a euphemism for sexual harassment, in Tollywood, has now shifted her focus on actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan.
Referring to the Jana Sena party chief as ‘Anna’ (brother), she earnestly requested the ‘Power Star’ to question the people at the helm of the film industry on her behalf. He, in turn, requested her to go to the police. Infuriated by this, she slapped herself with shoes in public, reportedly in a gesture of regret for calling him her brother. She even went on live television, abusing him and his mother.
Her action stirred the hornet’s nest in the ‘mega star’ family, which includes Pawan and his brother and former minister Chiranjeevi.
Claiming he was deeply hurt by Sri Reddy’s abuse involving his mother, Pawan Kalyan alleged that a smear campaign against him was being orchestrated by a dominant caste lobby, which owns the media.
The media in Andhra Pradesh is largely controlled by the Kamma community.
Subsequently, he launched a Twitter war against a few leading vernacular TV channels owned by influential businessmen from the Kamma community, which included former Union Minister YS Chowdary from the TDP and Ravi Prakash of TV9.
Pawan even trained guns on Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu for allegedly ordering the campaign. He called on people to boycott these ‘yellow’ channels who are in nexus with the ruling TDP.
Incidentally, Chowdary’s TV channel played an instrumental role in exposing the sexual exploitation in Tollywood with Sri Reddy at the centre of its 24x7 debates.
Consequently, Pawan’s tweets have turned into a caste war between Kammas and Kapus across the state, as both the groups resorted to protests against each other.
The showdown seemingly sets the tone for electoral mobilisation through caste in the upcoming general elections in 2019 and many believe this is Pawan’s excuse to move close to Jagan Mohan Reddy.
The Jana Sena leader has developed ambitions to play a key role in AP politics after being the kingmaker in the 2014 elections. He gave expression to his ambitions with the social justice slogans he raised at his party’s recent Foundation Day rally in Mangalagiri in Andhra's Guntur district.
Rise of the Kapus
Kapus, a demographically strong community in the coastal region of Andhra, reconciled themselves to the ground reality after the killing of their icon and sitting MLA Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga in 1988. They bought peace with the ruling Kammas until megastar Chiranjeevi came into the picture in 2009.
In return for the peace with Kammas, the community leaders enjoyed a major slice of power during the regimes of both the TDP and the Congress, which too, under the leadership of former CM YS Rajasekhar Reddy, wooed the community for electoral gains.
Some sections of the community emerged as economic powerhouses during the period between the 1990s and 2010. A media baron whose newspaper office was vandalized in the post-Ranga violence in Vijayawada was quoted as having told his men sitting in ‘glass houses’ not to pelt stones at Kapus fighting on the streets. “Most of the Kapus shifted into glass houses now”, commented a senior journalist, wishing to be anonymous.
But with renewed strength and vigour, the community sought to alter the political equations in the 2009 elections with the megastar at the helm of its politics. But it turned out to be a flop show when Chiranjeevi merged his Praja Rajayam Party (PRP) with the Congress and became a union minister in UPA-II.
A facilitator turns contender
In a role reversal of sorts, Pawan turned from a facilitator who could draw votes for other parties to a contender for power in the 2019 general elections by questioning the powers-that-be.
The rift between Kammas and Kapus widened with Pawan’s personal attack on CM Naidu and his son Nara Lokesh when he levelled serious corruption charges against them. Understandably, the Jana Sena leader appears to be trying to fill the void left by the TDP’s four-year rule through social mobilisation in his favour.
Evolution of film industry
It was the landlord Reddys from the Rayalaseema region who initially forayed into the film industry as producers. However, the lead stars with roots in coastal Andhra were from the Kamma community. Brahmins were usually the directors, more often than not.
Over a period of time, the industry has come under the dominance of Kammas for the most part. But with Chiranjeevi emerging as a mega star after he married into the family of the legendary Allu Ramalingaiah, Kapus developed into a parallel power centre.
To quote A Prabhu, former president of the Film Critics Association, caste prejudice in the film industry reared its ugly head in the last two decades.
Film as a popular medium kept pushing charismatic stars into politics. Vachaspathi Kongara Jaggayya took the plunge into politics and went to the Lok Sabha from Ongole (1967) in Prakasam district from the Congress.
Later, the Telugu film industry witnessed the phenomenal rise of its son of the soil NT Rama Rao in politics (1982-1996). His meteoric rise made NTR an icon of Kammas, lending his community a new-found political status. Then Chiranjeevi tried to take a leaf or two from NTR’s book, but he failed in his attempts.
The unholy alliance, even if some call it so, between politics and the film industry and media houses with a caste dominance is not new in the state.
However, the Sri Reddy episode has lowered it to another level. Pawan rightly pointed out that most of the TV and the print media outlets are owned by Kammas with a strong connection to the film industry.
Therefore, the allegation of pursuing a common agenda by the community through these outlets carries some substance, it is alleged.