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Of Superstars and Naxalites

S.V. Srinivas

The legacy left behind by N.T. Rama Rao continues to shape Telugu film industry and Andhra Pradesh politics alike. As is well known, he began his political career in 1982 with the establishment of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and became the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the state. He was expelled from the party in 1995, shortly after being elected to power for a third time and died in 1996 as the leader of a minority faction of the TDP. Unlike M.G. Ramachandran, NTR did not have a prior history of political involvement before establishing the TDP. A quarter century later another generation of Telugu stars is attempting to break into politics, offering themselves as nothing less than Chief Ministerial candidates. In the interregnum dozens of film stars and industry personalities had joined or established political parties without making much of an impact. How do we even begin to understand the continuing intimacy between the film industry and politics?   In this essay I will briefly examine two moments in the history of the Telugu film industry to argue that cinema-politics linkages are not sufficiently accounted for by the analysis of politically significant content of films/genres. Both moments suggest that Telugu cinema's gesture towards the political is, among other things, a means of responding to emerging possibilities for the industry's growth and also resolving crises that are internal to the industry. The cinema's political significance therefore cannot be discussed in isolation from the industrial context that throws up politically significant stars or genres.   The election of M.G. Ramachandran as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (1977) coincided with the beginning of a new phase of expansion for the Telugu film industry. Around this time in both states there was a spurt in film production. In Andhra Pradesh this was due to pressures from below: a rapidly expanding exhibition sector facilitated the growth of the distribution sector which in turn mopped up funds locally generated investments and channelled them into new productions.   NTR continued to be a highly bankable star right up to his election, featuring in some of his career's biggest hits during his ten month long campaign in 1982-83. The political campaign was selling his films. Arguably, the campaign era films reinforced the economic and aesthetic model that NTR (and to a lesser extent 'Superstar' Krishna) had helped put in place from the 1970s. The economic model was primarily ...

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