Kamal Haasan came through as a sincere man seeking a path to cleansing public life. There was very little of the theatrical or rhetorical in his style of appealing to people. He allowed the strength of sincerity to speak. This represents a good start if we choose to ignore the arguable symbolism of some of his acts in launching his Makkal Needhi Maiam from Madurai, thought to be the political capital of the Tamil heartland since time immemorial, or at least since the Dravidian parties came to power just over 50 years ago.
The political scene in Tamil Nadu is fast changing. There are events taking place that suggest the battle for the ballot cannot be far away. Kamal may have timed it well enough to be a properly prepared force, a force to be reckoned with if and when the people of Tamil Nadu are forced to make a choice. The last choice they made two years ago proved somewhat disastrous in the hospitalisation and demise of the late, lamented Jayalalithaa. The race is truly on for her seat far more than her legacy.
The political landscape has changed with a second actor-politician in the frame already and a third on the firmament, both after Vijayakanth who was once considered a force strong enough to be a game changer, if not quite the king or even kingmaker. The scene has changed so much that the old formula of a Dravidian duopoly, seen as recently as in the 2016 polls in which no one else proved to be a political force, may be on the verge of disappearing too. It is into this space that Kamal is driving himself into in his atheistic Periyarist, social reformist avatar.
I may be jumping the gun a bit here, but it does seem that the pull of cinema might once again be a big defining force as a possible combination of Kamal and Rajini, with Vijaykanth thrown in, might be able to garner sufficient votes to make a difference to who sits in Fort St George in the future. Any quick conclusion on the magnetism of cinema having been banished forever after the demise of Jaya seems very premature now. History has a way of repeating itself and those who discount that may be in for a shock.
The main surfboard on which Kamal is sailing against political waves is anti-corruption. And that, as we know from the recent history of the AAP, has certain attractions. The fight against graft is something the two major heroes of Tamil cinema are bound to take up as their principal salvo against the Dravidian parties, both having sullied their image in outright graft that ended in conviction or in allowing nepotism to rule freely. The corruption from mere proximity to power has been an overwhelming feature of public life in the last half a century, even if the poison entered the system slowly at first.
A divided AIADMK is unable to shake off the disruptive efforts of one man, which is why the state is where it is now and the DMK did not excel in standing back to see what effect the disruption will have by letting him walk the RK Nagar byelection. That could be picked as the singular political event leading to such churning now that nothing is predictable because a spell of President’s Rule is as much a possibility as an immediate election if the case throws up the logical verdict in the matter of 18 rebel MLAs, whose number was boosted by one from sheer visitation of further corruption.
The appeal to move away from this matter of votes-for-cash was simply but elegantly made by Kamal in his opening speech. Of course, the larger question is whether corruption has ever been an issue in the state despite the history of convictions of occupants of Poes Garden.
If the playing field is level because graft is not an issue seizing the public mind any more, then at least the charisma factor should work in favour of the stars. Let us not foget that it did in establishing the regimes of at least two people who were major personalities on the silver screen while a third simply got in for a while through the force of circumstances.
Politics is a hard grind and not a simple game as projected in the movies. In fact, Kamal’s journey will be the hardest as he does not have Rajini’s charisma. Now that he has got down into politics he will have to prove that he is not just a Twitter warrior or an opinion spouting celebrity. The PR people he hired did a good job of open communication with media persons on the logistics and other details of the opening scene of Kamal’s political journey. This was a refreshing change from the opaque styles of many national parties. Of course, the entire story of Kamal in politics would revolve around the conversion of curiosity over cinematic charisma into ballot box power. This will soon be said of Rajini too.
But no betting man would take wagers against these giants of cinema touching the hearts of common people in such a way that they will vote for them.
Let’s just say that one more game changer is here from the make-believe world jumping into real politics in the idealistic way that is bound to be manner of anyone entering this field. Soon enough, they may have to compromise with realpolitik too. In the final analysis, the perception of change being in the air is real, not reel. And whether he likes its colour or not, Kamal in Hindi means lotus. That is just one intriguing aspect of the Tamil Nadu political story that is changing.