Come October 18, Tamil Nadu will witness a high-pitch election battle. It will be a single day poll which will seal the fate on who will control the administration of perhaps what is one of the state’s most influential organizations. No, it is not the DMK or the ADMK, but the South Indian Artistes Association, popularly known as the Nadigar Sangam (meaning ‘actors association’).
In a way, it is a battle between the older giants and the newer entrants. But in the ensuing battle, the industry has been shred into pieces, with each side grabbing members onto their camp. But there are two central actors who have been at the forefront of the battle, representing each of their camps. Leading from one side is senior artiste and actor-politician Sarathkumar who is the President of the Nadigar Sangam, and on the other side is young actor Vishal Krishna. Ironically, and also quite cinematically, Vishal is in love with and is all set to marry Sarathkumar’s daughter, Varalakshmi. He had announced dramatically few months ago that till the issue is resolved he will not get married.
The Nadigar Sangam was started under the patronage of famous actor and politician MG Ramachandran in 1952, and the founder members included the likes of Sivaji Ganesan and MR Radha. With the monetary contribution of several actors, a piece of land was bought in Habibullah Road in Chennai, and a building was constructed with various facilities. The root of the current face-off is that very building.
According to IndiaGlitz, in 2010 President of the association Sarathkumar took the decision that the old building be demolished and a new one built. Sarathkumar and another officer-bearer and actor Radharavi, who is also the brother of Sarathkumar’s wife Radhika, signed an agreement with Sathyam Cinemas to demolish the building and construct a multiplex there. The multiplex would have one floor allotted to the Sangam, and the Sangam would also be paid a sum of Rs. 26 lakh every month as lease for the land. It was a 35-year contract. So in March 2011, the demolition began. But towards the end of 2012, allegations of irregularities in the contract surfaces and Sarathkumar and Radharavi were accused of taking a decision unilaterally. A case was filed in the court, and the matter is still pending.
In 2013, Vishal too stepped into the squabble and demanded that the Sathyam Cinemas contract be scrapped. And then began the saga of the altercation between the ‘could-be’ son-in-law and father-in-law, which will hopefully end with a decisive verdict after the October 18 elections.
In the past year, Vishal has been aggressive. And when things remained as they were with no response from Sarathkumar, a group of actors, including veteran Nasser and younger heart-throb Karthi (who is actor Suriya’s brother) decided to contest elections.
The election dates were also finalized only after a controversy. Initially, Sarathkumar had announced that the election would be held on July 15. But Vishal went to court, and demanded that it be held on a day when all members could vote. Finally, the date was set as October 18. Former High Court judge E Padmanabhan will preside over the elections. Strongmen Sarathkumar and Radharavi, along with Simbu, aka STR, veteran actor Vijayakumar, Shaam and Mumtaz and Radhika Sarathkumar will fight against the ‘Pandavar Ani’ (or the camp of the Pandavas’) of Nasser, Vishal, Ponvannan, Karunas and Karthi.
Sarathkumar told film journalist Sreedhar Pillai few days ago, “All during my nine-year-long tenure, the Nadigar Sangam has functioned admirably, and has repaid most of its loans. Most members are aware of this, though not all of them will admit to this in public. The other group, however, is indulging in some wrong practices, as it intends to win the election at any cost.”
Quite obviously, VIshal does not agree with Sarathkumar and responded thus, “Their charges are baseless. In fact, it was their team, which decided to delay the polls, which should have been completed by May 31, this year, in accordance with the association’s by-law. We want the management to be more democratic and transparent, and so, want a change.” Actors like Khushboo and Prakash Raj have announced their support for this camp.
Several actors have however stayed away from openly endorsing either side.
Meanwhile, Sarathkumar also slapped a Rs. 10-crore defamation suit against Vishal for making allegations of irregularities during an interview to a TV news channel in Chennai. Vishal has brazened it out, stating that he was only speaking the truth and that he will deal with it legally.
There is a maze of political connections here. Sarathkumar is a politician heading a party called All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi with a Nadar base. Nadars are a strong, rich and influential trader community based in South TN. Sarathkumar is allied with the ruling AIADMK. His partner at the Nadigar Sangam, Radharavi, who was once a DMK man, is now known to be an ADMK sympathiser.
Meanwhile, Vishal isn’t one without political connections. He is said to be a close friend of DMK strongman MK Stalin’s son Udayanidhi Stalin, an actor himself.
But in this maze of allegations and politics, the battle for the Sangam promises to be fiery and one which could set the tone for the management of the Sangam in the coming years.