The actors in southern cinema have the power to sway audience with their performances and are demi gods to their fans. As they continue to steer towards politics, will they be able to weave the same magic on people as their forerunners is worth waiting...

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If it has not already spread a sense of déjà vu, it will, in due course of time, as India approaches the next elections of 2019. Exactly 18 months before they are due, the political environment of southern India has many stars flexing their muscles and testing their political fortunes.

While heroes like Pawan Kalyan, by throwing their hats into the ring have already gained traction in the media at least, his elder brother and a has-been politician, Chiranjeevi, seems to be keeping away consciously from the heat and dust of “netagiri”.  It is common knowledge that he is busy shaping up a different track with his historical  ‘Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy’ expected to be released somewhere by the end of 2018.

Of course, the echo chamber has already started reverberating on what is Pawan Kalyan and his Jana Sena Party’s game plan is likely to be. Wild rumours float about his future roles and whether his outfit will end up being a supplicant to the bigger national and regional parties, which are already cautious and openly critical about his kind of politics.

It is also evident that the road to ultimate glory in the political arena is definitely not smooth anymore for the tinsel world icons, who have often deluded themselves into believing if they have been unvanquished heroes onscreen, that appeal will endure for them to exploit offscreen too.

Surely, none expects that the halcyon days of the 1980s will be repeated when the legendary NT Rama Rao stormed the minds and hearts of Telugus, to carve out a niche forever for his Telugu Desam Party, which is being run like a corporate entity by his son-in-law and successor N Chandrababu Naidu.

The Jaganmohan Reddy led - YSRCP has Roja as its “nari shakti” mascot, even as she is hobbled by the short-sighted politics of her leader, who is keener on settling scores with his rivals than launching a consistent political movement of sorts, till the time of  writing.

In the neighbourhood, Chennai however has been a buzzing city ever since the actress-turned-CM Jayalalithaa passed away in December and throwing open the political space for many other aspirants. Nearly a year down the line, while political machinations continue to frustrate the average Tamilian who does not know whether there is real governance happening, media platforms are chock-a-block with star statements.

Historically speaking, the cinema-saturated world of southern politics, which started with the rise of the matinee idol MG Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s has over decades seen reel power spreading effortlessly all over. Using a successful cocktail of political ideology and raw silver screen impact, the Dravidian parties wooed and won over the emotionally-swayed populace in election after election, since the first time they came to power 50 years ago.

A half-century later, while Tamil Nadu is still firmly under the control of ageing heroes and out-of-action heroines donning a different avatar, things have been strictly ‘political’ in neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where cine stars have been added to enhance the glamour quotient rather than allowing them a stint at the top slot.

Following Jayalalithaa’s demise, the longest running mega serial of sorts in Tamil Nadu - the speculation surrounding the political entry of its screen superstar, Rajinikanth - got traction again. Having taken a head start in the statement race, Rajini, in a series of public interactions including a press meet, almost confirmed that he was about to turn into an active politician, till he went back into hibernation. 

The surprise pack was that of mega actor Kamal Haasan who suddenly showed a fresh bout of interest in local politics, took on the ruling AIADMK politicians and got into a real slanging match with fans and foes, both online and offline.  Having kept away from the political field even when his counterpart and more successful Rajini was being lured time and again over the past decade and more, Kamal Haasan, seems to have decided to really go for it this time, for sure.

Followers of Kamal have known that he has maintained an ambivalent, muddled kind of an approach towards the power games that pass off as politics in his home state. Identifying his affiliation towards the left-of-centre and priding on the fact that he is irreligious, Haasan has barely convinced his core group of supporters that he can really shake things, as of now. 

Reasons are clear in the cases of both the stars. One is the rapidly shrinking space for their kind of cinema in the current film industry, which has always been a multi-level one, coexisting with small budget beauties even as eye-popping heavy investment-laden ventures hit the screens alongside. Rajini has had a vice-like grip over the box-office fortunes of his films for a long time, which has been shaken up badly over the last decade.

With ‘Kaala’, his next multi-lingual release slated for release in April 2018, the superstar has only the long-in-the-making ‘Robot 2’ as his other project. Moreover, the kind of expectations, which his films have been generating and the yawning gap that fans perceive between what they expect and what they get has continued to worry the film directors, who have struggled to match up to it. Added to this is the continuing suspense on his next incarnation in the making, which none is sure of.

The times have not been very favourable for cine stars in south India who wish to make a bow in the rough and tumble of politics. Clever politicians, having slogged for years to attain their coveted positions have managed to unleash their potential and firmly send them into the doghouse once the missions are accomplished. The examples of Balakrishna in TDP and a few others will be apt to mention here.

Over the past decade, Tamil Nadu, from where the blending of the reel and the real started off in the first place has also seen a fair sprinkling of fading stars who launched political parties, joined hands with existing political formations and went along with the flow, only to be side-lined on and off both by their political contemporaries and the public alike.

The popular illustration would be that of Vijayakanth, known as Captain in the Tamil land and who really promised to shake up the entrenched power structure of both the Dravidian parties in the state, as he rose from strength to strength since he launched his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam in 2005. He brought about a high sense of feel good among his supporters and almost made it to the inner circles of power, before he was jettisoned from the race and forced into deal-mongering with his erstwhile rivals.

It is surely a trend, which will continue to exist for some time. The star value of a select few in both the successful Telugu and Tamil film industries will be exploited for political results by parties who have major stakes in the manner in which matters of governance have to be directed. Beyond that, it will take quite a call for these heroes to migrate from the world of make believe to that of a real one which is quite different from the one they have lorded over for a long, long time.