“Kamal Haasan bats for jallikattu,” reads one headline. Another screams, “Kamal Haasan backs Panneerselvam, says ‘Sasikala reality hurt me’”. Then there’s one headline which says, “Kamal Haasan slams AIADMK government over NEET issue”.
For the past ten months, Ulagayagan Kamal Haasan has voiced his opinion on a range of issues – the latest being on the Ennore Creek. In doing so, the actor, whose political ambitions are well-known, has dominated headlines very often.
But by setting the news agenda for media organisations in Tamil Nadu, is Kamal trying to control the narrative?
Setting the agenda
Speaking to TNM, Karthigaichelvan S, a senior television journalist with a leading Tamil news channel, points out that Kamal Haasan is trying to set the agenda and the roadmap for his possible plunge into politics. “The political scenario in Tamil Nadu is such that there is a space for everyone to voice their opinion. And Kamal being an actor has a loud voice,” he explains.
Pointing to his tweets on a broad spectrum of topics, and his informal meetings with activists and college students besides leaders like Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Karthigaichelvan observes, “Whether he is committed to launch a political party or not, he is trying to get the pulse of the public. Through his actions, he is trying to do two things. Firstly, he is testing the waters by having these informal meetings. Secondly, he is answering his critics. People have blamed the (film) industry for not raising their voice in the past. He is trying to make a point, so no one can accuse him.”
Privamvatha P, Deputy Editor and TN Bureau Chief of India Today, believes Kamal is taking calculated steps through his series of tweets. “He wants to be seen by the public as a crusader. He is hoping to change the political situation by going down to the ground level and solving issues. It is also clear that he is trying to understand issues through his strategy of continuous tweets,” she says.
But Priyamvatha argues that while he is setting the tone among youngsters and those on social media, politics in Tamil Nadu is a different ballgame altogether. She observes, “It’s about caste politics, money, and ground power matters. Just having fan clubs is not enough. Yes, he has youngsters following him, but what about the rural masses?”
Pressure to express opinion
However, a senior Tamil news journalist says that “peer pressure” is forcing the actor to express his opinion on many things. He says, “Governments and political parties have advisors who are IAS officers, or retired bureaucrats and experts. There is pressure on Kamal to express his opinion.”
And this pressure, the journalist elaborates, exposed Kamal’s ignorance on the nilavembu issue. The actor had urged his fans not to distribute the herbal concoction used to prevent and treat dengue, until proper research is done – but he was forced to clarify his statement after an activist filed a police complaint against him.
“I think Nilavembu was an accident. He wanted to say something and said the reverse,” says the journalist. But the journalist argues that this pressure was created by Kamal himself.
“Why is this pressure not there on Rajini? He has not created this pressure on himself to voice his views. He tweeted about Anitha’s death and after that there has been silence. He is working on 2.0 and Kaala. You have to be selective about when to open your mouth,” he notes.
Decoding cryptic tweets
And while Kamal has over the months expressed his opinion on burning issues, his tweets have often been cryptic and vague. “It was absolutely challenging in the initial days. His tweets were cryptic and because these were in old Tamil that only scholars can understand, it was difficult to translate it into English,” says Privamvatha of India Today, adding, “But in Bigg Boss he acknowledged that people don’t understand what he is saying and that he will tweet clearly. And in the last few weeks, his tweets have been clear.”
But not all journalists have found reporting on Kamal’s tweets a challenge.
“His tweets are mostly in Tamil and that too in Old Tamil. It is our fault if we are not able to understand it. It is our language,” points out the senior journalist.
Karthigaichelvan says, “He is trying to play smart. His messages are clear. He tried to blame the media yesterday, saying he can’t announce a party because the media wants him to. But he has given hints. He spoke to at least ten media houses last month, he even spoke about the process of creating a party symbol and flag.”
So, is it sheer opportunism on Kamal’s part?
“He is waiting for elections. He wants to give such statements – he criticises the government, he attacks ministers. He has something on his mind. But it’s not clear whether he can achieve it,” notes Karthigaichelvan.