Is Ka­mal Haasan In­dia’s next movie star-turned-politi­cian?

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL/EVENTS - By Sudha G Tilak

NEW DELHI (BBC) - The stage seems set to wit­ness the ar­rival of a new po­lit­i­cal leader in the south­ern In­dian state of Tamil Nadu - Ka­mal Haasan.

And un­sur­pris­ingly, he’s a film star. Three of Tamil Nadu’s chief min­is­ters un­til the re­cent past have been ac­tors.

Haasan, 62, whom his fans call “Ulaga Naya­gan” or “hero of the world”, has said that he will en­ter pol­i­tics and work to­wards be­com­ing chief min­is­ter to right the wrongs of cor­rup­tion and com­mu­nal­ism in pub­lic life in Tamil Nadu.

He has also said that the peo­ple of Tamil Nadu must change and be­come more so­cially and po­lit­i­cally aware.

That’s a tall or­der given that Tamil Nadu has been wracked by po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty since the death of its pre­vi­ous chief min­is­ter Ja­yaram Jay­alalitha in De­cem­ber 2016.

Has­san’s an­nounce­ment that he will en­ter pol­i­tics has led to in­tense spec­u­la­tion that he will float his own party and re­ju­ve­nate the mori­bund pol­i­tics of Tamil Nadu.

If the state held assem­bly elec­tions in “the next 100 days I will be there”, said Haasan, who has been meet­ing politi­cians across the coun­try in the last month.

In in­ter­views fol­low­ing meet­ings with Kerala chief min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi j ayan of the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist) and Delhi chief min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal of the Aam Aadmi Party, he has in­di­cated that he is talk­ing to politi­cians from dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties for pos­si­ble coali­tions in the fu­ture.

Un­like his friend and ri­val, reign­ing Tamil su­per­star Ra­jnikanth, Haasan has, through the years, openly spo­ken of his af­fil­i­a­tion for lib­eral pol­i­tics. Ra­jnikanth said he would en­ter pol­i­tics in May.

Haasan, how­ever, has said that the two are friendly ri­vals who would be­have like gen­tle­men in pol­i­tics, and not re­sort to per­sonal at­tacks like Tamil politi­cians have done in the past.

Haasan’s pub­lic per­sona has been that of a right-think­ing in­di­vid­ual in a state rife with cor­rup­tion, and sec­tar­ian and caste hos­til­i­ties.

His pro­file as a lib­eral who chal­lenges caste or­tho­dox­ies on pub­lic plat­forms and in his movies, and his call for hu­man­ism over re­li­gion in his films, marked a cul­tural shift from the cult of hero wor­ship that stars such as Ra­jinikanth and MG Ra­machan­dran (who later be­came the Tamil Nadu chief min­is­ter) en­joy.

Given the cur­rent vac­uum in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, Haasan’s foray into pol­i­tics has not been un­wel­come de­spite what scep­tics say.

Un­like Ra­jnikanth, who has more than 50,000 fan clubs, and a larger fan base that also con­sti­tutes a vote bank, Has­san’s fan base of about 500,000 is seen as a lesser but well-or­ga­nized, com­mu­nity-minded task force.

Haasan’s fan clubs, known as Narpani Iyyakam or “move­ment for good deeds”, have been as­soci- ated with so­cial wel­fare mea­sures, and are not prone to the frenzy and cult- style wor­ship that Ra­jnikanth com­mands.

A re­cent state­ment from the fan clubs read, “Ka­mal is not like the av­er­age politi­cian who pre­tends be­fore peo­ple, but has done a lot for so­ci­ety through the Iyyakkam”.

His in­ter­views in sup­port of In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan (Clean In­dia Cam­paign) and cur­rency ban raised eye­brows.

“While he tends to be ar­tic­u­late, he has al­ways been known to make ob­fus­cat­ing state­ments that rarely ap­peal to com­mon folk”, says a se­nior jour­nal­ist in Chen­nai, the south­ern In­dian city where Haasan lives.

“He’s clever and ar­tic­u­late un­like Ra­jinkanth but his habit of speak­ing in rid­dles of­ten sends mixed sig­nals (which are) dif­fi­cult to read by the av­er­age voter”, says one po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor.

Ex­perts fa­mil­iar with pol­i­tics in Tamil Nadu point out that Haasan is also known to be a blunt speaker, of­ten lack­ing the diplomacy that the tricky world of pol­i­tics de­mands.

He is yet to list his ideas about how he would work on ed­u­ca­tion, eco­nomics and em­ploy­ment in the state, or even clar­ify his plans to float a party of his own.

Haasan has been meet­ing politi­cians across the coun­try, in­clud­ing state chief min­is­ters

Haasan hails from an up­per class Tamil Brah­min fam­ily of lawyers which has al­ready thrown up two other Na­tional Award win­ning ac­tors - Has­san’s el­der brother, Charuhasan, and his niece, Suhasini Mani­rat­nam.

His ac­com­plish­ments in the last 50 years are proof of his ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent. He made his first movie ap­pear­ance as a child in 1960 and has since acted in more than 200 movies in many In­dian lan­guages, win­ning sev­eral pres­ti­gious na­tional and in­ter­na­tional awards.

He has al­ter­nately been called a ge­nius and an ob­ses­sive mav­er­ick.

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He’s skilled in In­dian clas­si­cal dance ( Bharatanatyam) and mu­sic (Car­natic), and has sung in his own movies as well. A poet and a writer, he has also pro­duced, acted, directed and writ­ten scripts for films.

Haasan’s films have of­ten courted con­tro­versy. He has ex­plored themes from the war against ter­ror (Vish­wa­roopam) to Mus­lim iden­tity (Hey Ram) to hu­man­ism and the ques­tion of faith (Anbe Si­vam, Dasha­vataram).

Can his ap­peal as an ac­tor­turned-saviour bring him votes? Will the cre­ative ge­nius work his magic on the pol­i­tics of the state? He cer­tainly has con­fi­dence enough to an­nounce his in­ten­tions, no small feat in an ex­pec­tant state.

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