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Transfer of Charisma: Star Politicians of Tamil Nadu


Theodore Baskaran


One of the principal features of the politics of Tamil Nadu is its close interaction with Cinema. . This phenomenon has spread to the rest of the country. How did this process begin? What is the dynamics of the emergence of the star politician?   The roots of this interaction between the entertainment media and politics go back to the days of freedom struggle. The process began quite early in the history of cinema and it was the Congress which first used this medium as an instrument of propaganda.   Before the talkies, the world of popular entertainment was dominated by company dramas. A few local entrepreneurs, musicians and entertainers, came together to form these companies, on the model of the Marathi and Parsi companies which had earlier toured the presidency.Their repertoire consisted of mostly mythological episodes. The plays themselves were mere packages of songs and the main component was music. Soon a number of companies, nearly 260were operating in Madras presidency, at times travelling as far as Rangoon and Jaffna. As company dramas grew popular as a pastime and permanent drama halls were built in many towns.   One historical incident politicized them -the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. It electrified the stage artists into action. It began with political songs on the stage which were used off the stage also for propaganda. Some of these songs came out as gramophone records.   The next phase was the staging of patriotic plays such as The Triumph of Khadi, a play by Krishnasawmi Pavalar. Swaminatha Sarma wrote a play titled, The Soldier of Banapuram, based on the story of Bruce of Scotland. Allegory and nationalist symbols such as the charka and Gandhi cap were used defying The Dramatic Performances Act, of 1876. The process of politicization of the entertainment world caught on.   The political activism of the Civil Disobedience movement drew the artistes into direct political action. The salt satyagraha was organised in Madras by drama artists, led by M.M.Chidambaranathan. Actors picketed toddy shops and demonstrated in the streets and quite a few suffered jail sentences. When the general elections were announced in 1937, many of them campaigned for Congress, addressing public meetings.   The entertainers had a major incentive in getting into active politics. Stigmatised traditionally and despised by the society, they gained a new respectability as they took their seats along with leaders on political platforms Some of them held office in the Congress. ...


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