If you ever want to know what a potpourri of news looks like, visit the Telugu states. How else do you explain the tale of a ‘casting couch’ degenerating into a full-blown ugly political battle. Where the dramatis personae include characters as diverse as a starlet, powerful producers, a film star who is trying to make it big in politics, the chief minister and his minister son, media barons, women activists, the film industry association, a flop film director and emotional fans.
It began on 7 April when Sri Reddy, an aspiring actor stripped in public in Hyderabad to expose those who had cheated her after promising her a film role. For an entire week, she dominated the headlines. She named Tollywood personalities who had allegedly exploited her, even releasing photographs to buttress her claims.
A week later, actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan advised Sri Reddy that if she wanted justice, she “should go to police stations and the court, not TV stations''.
Upon Ram Gopal Varma's unwarranted advice, Sri Reddy reacted dramatically by using a cuss word for Pawan and his mother and showed him the middle finger. She further got personal and hit herself with her slipper in front of cameras for having called Pawan her brother.
“No woman should treat you like her brother,” said Sri Reddy.
The vulgar gesture dominated the headlines on all Telugu TV channels, with several debates organised on the issue. Pawan Kalyan is a huge draw in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and anything connected with him, garners eyeballs.
Surprisingly Pawan Kalyan reacted only four days later, to his name being dragged into the muck by Sri Reddy. In a series of tweets, he launched a broadside against Chandrababu Naidu, his son Nara Lokesh and four media barons for insulting his mother. His tweets in both Telugu and English were high on emotion, declaring “If I cannot defend the honour of my mother, I better die.”
He also got personal with the media owners, warning them that they “will face the consequences for abusive programs on his mother.”
For the better part of Friday, Pawan Kalyan was at the Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber office. It soon became a family affair with his actor brother Nagendra Babu, nephew Ramcharan and Allu Arjun joining him. That was enough to increase the footfalls at the premises, with the narrow staircase soon cramped for space.
No one quite knew why Pawan Kalyan had chosen to stage some kind of a dharna there. It is not as if either the Telugu Desam bosses or the media barons were sitting there. If he had a grouse against the media coverage, he could have approached either the News Broadcasters Association or perhaps even the court. That would have been practising what he preached to Sri Reddy.
Instead, Pawan Kalyan reduced his angst into a tamasha of sorts. Passions ran high with angry Pawan fans raging against Varma, vowing to teach him a lesson. The outdoor broadcast van of ABN TV channel was allegedly vandalised by the mob.
The question that Pawan Kalyan needs to ask himself is whether this is the best way he could have reacted. More so, when Sri Reddy had apologised for insulting Pawan's mother. While the jury is out on whether a ‘sorry' sufficed after causing harm, given that Pawan is now a political figure and aspires to make it big in Andhra politics, he should have displayed magnanimity and moved on.
His decision to make this an issue on Friday raised eyebrows as it coincided with Naidu's decision to sit on a dawn to dusk fast in Vijayawada. Was it engineered to take the eyeballs away from the live coverage of Naidu's gimmick?
His fans gave the game away by pointing out how more than 12,000 people were watching Pawan's show on a particular channel's website while at the same time, less than 100 were glued to Naidu's footage.
Given how Naidu and the TDP have been targeted by Pawan Kalyan, there is bound to be suspicion if the Friday show was directed by the BJP. Ever since Naidu parted ways with the BJP over the Special Category Status issue, the two have been daggers drawn. The TDP suspects the BJP is using both Pawan and the YSR Congress as pawns to target Naidu.
This is not the first time Pawan Kalyan has reacted emotionally. In 2003, he sat on a dharna on the main road outside the office of a local newspaper in protest against stories written on him that he claimed were not true.
Four years later, he dramatically surrendered his revolver at the local police station, brandishing it in public. This was after Chiranjeevi's daughter Sreeja had eloped and said she feared for her and her husband's life from her family members. This was Pawan's way of telling the world that no harm would come his niece's way from him.
What Pawan's outburst on Twitter also reveals is a commentary on how regional media is perceived. Pawan believes Naidu controls much of the Telugu media and gets them to target him. It is true that many of the channel owners are known to be close to the TDP boss, either because of caste affiliation or ideological reasons.
While Jaganmohan Reddy has his Sakshi channel and newspaper to fall back on, Pawan realises his Jana Sena gets a raw deal unless the channels want to exploit his popularity to garner TRPs.
At the same time, what cannot be denied is that Pawan is a political force to reckon with. While converting his fan base into votes to win seats will be a tall order without a well-oiled party machinery, he has the potential to be a spoilsport. His going on the offensive against select people in powerful positions is also an indication of a certain ganging up against him.
But with the kind of fan base he has, Pawan ought to be responsible and ensure he does not arouse passions. His fans already have the reputation of getting abusive with Pawan's critics and after today, it may only take the public discourse over social media further down.
Note: Views expressed are the author’s own.