From M Karunanidhi to M G Ramachandran to Sivaji Ganesan to Jayalalithaa to Janaki Ramachandran to Vijayakanth, politics and cinema have gone hand in hand in Tamil Nadu. Some successful, some unsuccessful.
It is not coincidental that the leaders of many major political parties in Tamil Nadu have in one way or another been associated with the film industry or have had a mass following.
With many actor-turned politicians, Tamil Nadu has seen it all: Successful actors becoming successful politicians, unsuccessful actors become successful politicians and unsuccessful actors becoming unsuccessful politicians.
M Karunanidhi, a poet and a politician moulded into one. Films were where he made his first mark. A staunch follower of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch Annadurai, he went on to become a heavyweight politician. The DMK's propaganda was pushed through movies, plays written by Karunanidhi. After M G Ramachandran's fallout from DMK, politics in Tamil Nadu practically became a fight between Karunanidhi and M G R. The legacy was simply carried forward by J Jayalalithaa.
M G Ramachandran
M G Ramachandran built his party after he broke away from the DMK. His mass appeal catapulted him to the position of an undisputed political leader. His 'good boy' screen image gave him a huge fan following and his strong political conviction transformed those fans into voters. He led his party to three consecutive victories and remained chief minister from 1977 till his death in 1987. The classic example of a successful actor becoming a successful politician.
J Jayalalithaa's political journey was not cakewalk. Humiliated, physically assaulted, disowned by her party and looked down upon, she saw it all. Jayalalithaa rose through the ranks of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam when M G R was at the helm of affairs only to be pushed down from the seat of power with his passing. The queen of Tamil cinema was reduced to a nobody even before M G R was laid to rest. The ill-treatment seemed to have worked wonders for her, for she rose as a politician that M G R had envisioned her to be.
With her mass appeal, political acumen of forging right alliances at the right time, she kept herself and the AIADMK relevant in Tamil Nadu politics. The first ever actress turned politician to reach the pinnacle of success in an otherwise male dominated Tamil Nadu politics.
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It is widely expected for successful actors to naturally become successful politicians owing to their mass appeal. The same was not the case with superstars like Sivaji Ganesan. First it was the DMK for him, then the Congress. The actor even went on to float a party, Thamizhaga Munnetra Kazhagam, on his own. But his political career stubbornly refused to take off and he quietly retired after a stint with the Janata Party alliance. The mass following did little to help.
Vijayakanth advertised his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam as the next big thing in Tamil Nadu politics in 2005. Vijayakanth preferred to contest independently in polls while other regional parties always sought alliances. In their first electoral battle, the DMDK won a single seat of the 234 that they contested in. Vijayakanth, the face of the party, won that seat. The next few elections came as an embarrassment to the actor turned politician. The number of seats that the party contested in saw a drop. Vijayakanth still struggles to find relevance in Tamil Nadu politics.
Janaki Ramachandran was compelled to take over AIADMK after its supremo and her husband M G Ramachandran passed away. An actor herself, clout was something that Janaki missed right from the start. While the party cadre was divided, Janaki hoped Sivaji Ganeshan's fan following would garner her some support but she too was forced to quit politics.
But success or no success these stalwarts assured that Tamil politics would continue to boast mass leaders who came from the silver screen.