How will actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) fare in the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 2021?
The thespian has appeared, as he usually does, with a new makeup for the exciting Season 3 of
Bigg Boss telecast in a leading Tamil channel. Meanwhile, his party has lost it at the polls in the 2019 General Elections. All candidates put up by the actor’s party lost their deposits. The actor himself did not contest.
MNM -- People’s Justice Centre -- secured 3.72 percent of the votes in the General Elections, with most of them coming from urban areas. This might be a poor showing for a parliamentary election, but MNM might fare much, much better in the upcoming polls in TN in 2021.
The big question now is what happens to MNM? Will Kamal become kingmaker? The more urgent question is: Will Kamal fail both as an actor and politician given the fact that
Vishwaroopam 2 bombed at box-office?
Like many things about Haasan, it is not clear if
Indian 2 will be his last film.
“When it comes to the Assembly elections, I think MNM will definitely have a bigger role to play. When MGR asked for a minister’s post in the DMK government he was told to quit cinema. Kamal might do something like that. His party is expected to fare better in the TN assembly elections,” said DI Aravindan, senior journalist and political observer.
Kamal’s involvement in
Bigg Boss has made the show popular in Tamil Nadu. This is the first time the actor has committed himself to such a major series on television. “Kamal is lending his charm to Bigg Boss and has added value to the show. I don’t know if the reverse is happening. Is the show helping Kamal reach the people as he claims? I have my doubts about that,” said Aravindan.
“The fitness factor favours Kamal. Many may view this as a weird point. But I wonder if (actor) Rajinikanth has the energy to tackle election-related complications. Ten years ago, the equation was very different,” he said.
Even while floating his party, Kamal had made it clear that his politics will be centrist in nature. But political observers say that much of what Kamal says and does is confusing in nature, much like his elliptical Twitter posts. “Are his economic policies liberal in nature? What does he think of the Kasturirangan report? His policies continue to be confusing,” said Samas, senior journalist and op-ed writer for a leading Tamil newspaper.
“The politics in TN right from the beginning was pro-DMK and anti-DMK. The latter group is always looking for someone new to come into the fold. They may back Kamal in 2021, but the numbers will not be significant,” he added. “The fact that AAP and Vijayakanth’s DMDK have lost votes indicates that Kamal’s party got these votes.”
Samas says that it’s unlikely for Kamal to make a dent in 2021. “He will not get the chair. Nor will his party be the main Opposition. I don’t even think he will turn kingmaker,” he said.
Samas concedes that Kamal has good intentions in entering politics. “He was among the few in the film industry to condemn the Babri Masjid demolition more than 25 years ago. Many of his films including
Hey Ram were politically charged. However, when it comes to Bigg Boss, I think the viewership will not translate into votes,” he said. He predicted that superstar Rajinikanth will win thrice the votes that Ulaga Nayagan’s party does in 2021.
“Politics is not a part-time job. It seems for now that Kamal has abandoned politics. DMK and AIADMK continue to move their coins. Kamal has remained largely silent after his defeat. He has not replied to the question in people's minds on whether he or Tamil nationalist leader Seeman is the third force in TN politics,” said Devibharathi, a senior journalist.
Kamal acted in over 200 films before he appeared in
Bigg Boss. His appearance on TV has polarised Tamil audiences. The show seen by millions has also repulsed some people who see Kamal’s decision to star in it as being beneath him. “There is corruption everywhere in high places. Bigg Boss is based on a very poor concept. No one is going to miss Kamal if he doesn’t continue in politics,” a housewife told me.
“I have met the actor several times. He is very sincere. I hope people give him a chance. He might make a mark in the 2021 elections,” said PA Krishnan, novelist and political observer.
Everyone knows that Kamal won the President’s Medal for his first screen appearance as a child actor in
Kalathur Kannamma (1960). As an actor, Kamal is arguably unsurpassed in India. He took an important step as producer of Rajaparvai (1981) in which he cast himself as the lead. He also wrote the screenplay of the movie. The film, which has a small cult following today, bombed.
But Kamal was relentless. Among the early successes of Rajkamal International were
Apoorva Sahodirargal (1989), Michael Madana Kamarajan (1990) and Thevar Magan (1992). In the eyes of the world, Kamal went from being just an actor to a well-informed intellectual. The thespian recently conceded that Thevar Magan could have been a political movie, though he never saw it as one.
Though Kamal has other talents like playback singer and lyricist, it is as director that we are closely able to judge him. Though
Hey Ram failed, no one can question Kamal’s search to create a great film.
Kamal doesn’t usually appear in TV ads. So, when he appeared in the ad for a leading textiles showroom, a few eyebrows were raised. Soon, Kamal was signed for
Bigg Boss, which became the actor’s launch-pad for politics. His mission seems to be cleaning up the ‘dirty politics’ of the state.
Many feel that Kamal’s success in
Bigg Boss will give him a much-needed niche. “I don’t know yet if the response from the crowd is stage-managed. If it is not, the applause for Kamal indicates that the show may help him in politics,” said Kavitha Muralidharan, an independent journalist.
Leaders like Kamal did not grow up from the roots. Even stalwarts like MGR and Jayalalithaa had to put in the hard work. “When Vijayakanth launched his party, the DMDK, many were excited. I don’t sense that with Kamal,” she said.
When asked if Seeman is a bigger threat to Kamal, Kavitha said that both parties have finished third in many constituencies. “But Seeman is the bigger force. Also, (chief minister) Edappadi Palanisamy is turning out to be quite a formidable foe,” she said.
There are a couple of things that Kamal has to change, especially with his middle-class appeal fast running out. He has to make sure that his TV and movie appearances boost his image as a politician. But mostly, he has to speak to grassroots workers and address their problems. Without his party penetrating the electorate at every level, winning shall remain a pipe dream.
Nandhu Sundaram is a journalist based in Ooty.