South of the Vindhyas, many actors have had successful political careers, but some were utter flops.

Star power in south India Reel life actors dont always make for real life statesmen
Voices Politics Friday, April 01, 2016 - 11:39

Only in India will you find a whole bevy of popular cinema stars being elected to important administrative offices and given the responsibility of policy making. Nowhere else are film actors elevated to this status. In the last half a century, some of the biggest names in modern Indian politics have been those who made their way via the silver screen. For some strange reason, India’s film loving audiences seem to think if an actor is good on screen, he or she is fit enough to run the country.

It was not too long ago when Doordarshan, the public service broadcasting of the State would air a tele-series ‘Ramayana’ directed by Ramanand Sagar every Sunday on prime time. This caught on like fire with the middle-class television viewing audiences and before anyone knew the actors playing the roles of Rama (Arun Govil) and Sita (Deepika) were worshipped! They were considered embodiments of gods and people fell at their feet. Chancing on their popularity, political parties offered them seats and gained mileage for their parties. Both those actors became members of the Lok Sabha. Rama as a Congress candidate and Sita as a BJP candidate, and that was the last one heard of them. Neither did their acting career progress, nor did they play any major path-breaking role in politics.

This was just a small example. The actual iceberg of this nature is in the south of the Vindhyas. Let us take a quick look at how many actors migrated from their existing or non-existing film careers into politicians. How many were successful and how many more, utter flops.

Actor Jayaprada in Lux Ad

In south Indian politics, especially Tamil Nadu, film actors are taken more seriously than democratically elected politicians. One doesn’t have to go into the history of this but can you separate Tamil Nadu politics from a figure like MG Ramachandran?

MGR started his acting career on stage and migrated to screen before entering politics. Along with him, his contemporaries, friends and close associates for decades M Karunanidhi, a successful screenwriter and Sivaji Ganesan another superstar actor too entered politics. However, MGR left his political legacy to his former screen heroine J Jayalalithaa and that turned Karunanidhi into the leader of the opposition. Tamil Nadu politics hasn’t risen above these two figures in the last few decades.

There were others from Tamil Nadu who entered politics. Veteran actor Vyjayanthimala Bali became a member of the Rajya Sabha and Hema Malini after a very unsuccessful career as a classical dancer entered the silver screen and became a hit. She joined the BJP and contested elections. In fact, Vyjayanthimala was the first to be called ‘Dream Girl’ long before Hema was given the same title. Last but not the least, Bhanurekha Ganeshan, daughter of actor Gemini Ganeshan, popular as Rekha became a member of the parliament.

Actor Hema Malini in Lux Ad

Actor Vyjayanthimala

Actor Rekha in Lux Ad

In erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, among the film actors who took to politics, Kongara Jaggayya is credited to be the first actor to be ever elected as a member of parliament. But the name of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao stands tall. Popular as NTR, as an actor he migrated from the stage to the screen. Playing the roles of Hindu gods in the mythological era of Telugu cinema, NTR became a cult figure. He used this popularity to start the ‘Telugu Desam’ to instigate Telugu pride. Within a span of a year his party overthrew the Congress and he was made the Chief Minister. However, his political career was not as successful as his film career was. He set a trend for a whole new generation of film actors to take to politics.

Actor NTR

In the next generation of actors there were Mohan Babu and Murali Mohan who joined the Telugu Desam Party, Rajasekhar and Krishna joined the Congress and Krishnama Raju who joined the BJP.  Comedian Babu Mohan too joined the Telugu Desam Party before switching sides to Telangana Rashtirya Samiti.  Director Dasari Narayana Rao too joined the Congress Party and launched his own newspaper called ‘Udayam’. He became a member of the parliament and served as the minister for coal. The biggest of them was Chiranjeevi who served as the minister of Tourism and launched his own party called ‘Praja Rajyam’. His younger brother Pawan Kalyan also launched his own party called ‘Jana Sena’ party.

Among the leading ladies from the Telugu screen Jayaprada, Jaya Sudha and Vijay Shanti jumped into politics even as they saw their own film careers fading out. All the three actors had a highly successful film career. The same couldn’t be said about their political career. An actress whose career was cut short with her untimely death was Soundarya. In fact she died in a helicopter crash while campaigning for a political party she got associated with right at the peak of her acting career.

In the Kannada film industry, not many actors took to politics. Actor Anant Nag joined the Janata Party and contested elections. He even served as a minister in the J H Patel government. Matinee idol Ambarish joined the Congress party and became a member of the parliament. He also served as the minister of state in the ministry of information and broadcasting. Jaggesh who joined the Congress Party switched sides to join the BJP later. The one actress who joined politics and had a successful career is Umashree. She joined the Congress party.

In Kerala actor K B Ganesh Kumar was the first actor to be elected to the assembly. Actor Murali contested as a candidate from the Left Democratic Front party and lost. However, actor Innocent contested and won elections from the same party.

There are many more junior actors who have shown political affiliations to various political parties. There are also those cases of actors who have had an unsuccessful film career and jumped into politics to gain some mileage. One wonders if many of these actors assess their own knowledge, political credibility and will and acumen before joining politics. Going by the large number of failures, one can say film actors are not cut out for politics. But going by the few odd successful ones, you can also debate their actual contribution to the nation’s growth. Indian voters are highly emotional people. They would rather go with the popular than think objectively about where is the country headed. For as long as we have film stars with zero political intelligence being elected to important offices, signs of any progress are far away.

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

Images courtesy – Pranav Kumar, Sharath, Rahul Chetty J

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