It would seem that the state's political leaders wish to take on Kamal before he grows too big to be contained.

Is the political establishment of Tamil Nadu growing wary of Kamal HaasanPTI
Voices Politics Monday, July 17, 2017 - 14:39

Ever since Jayalalithaa's death in December 2016, actor Kamal Haasan has shown an interest in voicing his views on political and social issues.

From speaking out against Sasikala, who'd attempted to take over the throne from her late friend, to actively expressing support for the jallikattu movement in January earlier this year, Kamal Haasan's views have been keenly followed by the public and the media.

The political establishment in the state appears to consider him as a serious threat, going by the attacks on the actor in recent times.

Kamal Haasan, unlike his contemporary Rajinikanth, has categorically said that he's not interested in entering politics. Though some of Tamil Nadu's biggest political leaders have come from the film industry and cinema itself was used as a tool for propaganda at one point, contemporary actors have mostly stayed away from expressing their views on political subjects.

This, despite the fact that in the age of social media, it's never been more easy for a celebrity to express their opinion directly to the public without having to resort to holding a press conference or calling up journalists.

Kamal's politics

In an interview to Puthiya Thalaimurai TV in March this year, Kamal had said that he's always voiced out his opinions but that it was the platform that social media offered him which enabled him to do so more often.

To be honest, as many have pointed out, Kamal Haasan's views are not always intellectually sound or nuanced. For instance, the actor is known to proudly declare that he has no religion or caste. While he may not practise caste or religion personally, he was born into a Tamil Brahmin family and has enjoyed/enjoys the privileges that his identity gives him in society.

Acknowledging that privilege is an important part of engaging with caste politics and cannot be as simplistic as announcing that you have no caste.

Kamal has also remained silent about issues like sexual harassment within the film industry, whether it was the case of actor Aditi who was allegedly assaulted by her director or the number of women who've spoken about the "casting couch" culture within it. He has been unwilling to take on subjects like misogyny in cinema, even as younger actors like Siddharth have spoken about it.

Indeed, for an artist who is politically conscious, Kamal cannot be ignorant of the politics of representation. And yet, his films have often celebrated sexist and homophobic sentiments.

When he was asked about the recent assault of a prominent Malayalam woman actor, Kamal committed a gaffe by naming the victim in public and later insisted that everyone calls her by her name. Even though what he did was a legal violation and most importantly, the victim herself has chosen to keep her name out of the media, Kamal remained defensive about his act.

Nevertheless, in a state languishing without strong political leadership, Kamal's growing vociferousness is making the establishment uncomfortable.

Soft target?

Kamal's clash with former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa over the release of Viswaroopam is well-known. In the same interview to Puthiya Thalaimurai, he blamed her for playing communal politics for vested interests. This obviously would not have gone down well with the AIADMK which was probably still smarting from his comments on Sasikala and the conduct of the party MLAs.

Added to this, the Hindu Munnani Katchi chose to take offence at Kamal's comments on the Mahabharatha which were made in the same interview. With Bigg Boss, the HMK has found yet another opportunity to target the actor and this time, the AIADMK has joined them.

From claiming that the reality TV show is against "Tamil culture" to making personal attacks on Kamal by calling him a "third rate" actor and referring to his live-in relationship with Gauthami in the past, the state's politicians have created a new low for themselves.

He has also been threatened by an AIADMK minister to stop his criticism of the government or face "tax audits" and "federal action". The HMK has declared that they will not allow his films to release in any theatre in the state.

The appropriation of "Tamil culture" to generate enough noise and stay in the news is a political trick that rabble-rousers in the state have used to great effect previously, too.

In 2005, Khushbu's comments on premarital sex was another instance when the self-appointed custodians of "Tamil culture" took offence and harassed the actor to unimaginable levels, even demanding that she be deported from the state.

While both the AIADMK and the DMK chose to keep mum over the "morality" issue back then, the DMK's working president Stalin has, this time around, come out in support of Kamal, grabbing the opportunity to take a potshot at the AIADMK's corruption.

Kamal and Rajini

Though Rajinikanth keeps dropping hints about his impending arrival in politics, he has seldom taken a strong stance about any issue. And the few times he's managed to ruffle feathers despite this soft-pedaling, he has been quick to backtrack and withdraw into his shell.

While Kamal's brand of politics or his views are not above criticism, it must be acknowledged that the actor's assertiveness about the issues he chooses to speak about, is appreciable.

Bigg Boss is not the most intellectually stimulating show there is and the popular rumour is that Kamal is part of it only because he's near bankrupt. However, the show clearly has a wide audience, going by the number of social media discussions it has triggered, the BARC India figures which tell us that it has sustained interest levels from its premiere, and the high numbers of people who vote every week to eliminate contestants. If reports are to be believed, this number is as high as 1 crore votes.

How then can a few people claim that the show and Kamal Haasan are against "Tamil culture" if the state is keenly following it?

The attacks against the actor are politically instigated and it would appear that the ruling party as well as those in the opposition are keeping him in their radar, recognising his potential to influence public opinion.

Most contemporary actors in Tamil Nadu stay away from politics because there's too much money at stake - any opinion which displeases a certain group can seal the fate of a film and they simply don't want to take that chance. Rajinikanth, too, walks on eggshells primarily for this reason.

Kamal stands out from the crowd in this regard and whether one agrees or disagrees with his views, it would be a pity if the public stands by and watches as the state's politicians indulge in their righteous lynching.