Reelpolitik: A Dossier on Actors-Turned-Politicians

After years of hinting at his entry into politics, Rajnikanth has announced that he would stay out, much to the disappointment of his fans. It was anticipated that the superstar would enter the league of Indian film stars-turned-politicians. N13 looks at the long list of actors-turned-politicians.

“How can a president not be an actor”? asked Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States and a Hollywood actor. Tweaking the Reagan-speak respectfully, one may ask, how can a politician not be an actor? Especially in India, a geography known for its vast population of actors-turned-politicians. 

Tamil actor Rajinikanth had earlier announced that he would launch a political party in January and would contest the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. However, last week he declared he would not take the electoral plunge citing health concerns and covid risks after being hospitalized in Hyderabad for fluctuations in blood pressure.

This is not the first time that an Indian film star has come forward to enter politics. While Rajinikanth decided to stay out much to the disappointment of his fans, many of his predecessors and contemporaries have taken the political plunge. Some started parties of their own, while some joined existing ones. N13 looks at the trajectory of these stars-turned-politicians.

Films and politics : the Tamil connection

In Tamil Nadu, politics and cinema have always been intertwined. Among those who came from the cine industry to politics are stalwarts like C.N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, M.G Ramachandran (MGR) and J Jayalalithaa.

Annadurai

C.N Annadurai, the first Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1969, was a scriptwriter and had acted in several plays. Some of his plays were later made into films. Initially a part of Dravidar Kazhagam, he later parted from it and formed Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). DMK  rode to power in 1967 on the back of a wave of anti-Hindi agitations that took place in the sixties. Annadurai defeated the Indian National Congress to become the first chief minister of the state from a regional party, setting a precedent that remains unbroken till date.

Karunanidhi

After Annadurai’s death in 1969, M Karunanidhi took over. He became DMK’s party chief and  Tamil Nadu state chief minister. Similar to his mentor, Karunanidhi too was a scriptwriter before entering politics. As DMK’s leader, Karunanidhi would go on to be elected as chief minister five times over four decades. During ‘The Emergency’ period, DMK opposed it. The government was summarily dismissed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But Karunanidhi would still go on to become Tamil Nadu’s longest-serving Chief Minister. He is also the only T.N. Chief Minister whose government was dismissed twice – in 1976 on charges of corruption and in 1991 for supporting the LTTE.

MGR

M.G. Ramachandran or MGR, worshipped as Puratchi Thalaivan in Tamil Nadu was a member of DMK initially. He later founded the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and became Chief Minister from 1977-87.

MGR used his enormous popularity as a film star to build a large political base. He gained huge traction by converting the ‘Midday Meal Scheme’ to ‘MGR’s Nutritious Meal Scheme’. Midday Meal Scheme was introduced by former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K.Kamaraj to encourage underprivileged children to attend school. MGR improved the program by extending its coverage to children in the age group of 2-5 years in Anganwadis and to those aged 5-9 years in primary schools in rural areas in 1982. Later it was extended to urban areas and to students in the age group of 10-15 years. He also gained mileage by introducing liquor ban in the state.

Jayalalithaa

Jayalalithaa appeared in 140 films from 1961 to 1980 in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Known as the queen of Tamil Cinema then, she entered politics by joining AIADMK in 1982 when MGR was the chief minister.

She was popularly called by masses as ‘Amma’ and ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (revolutionary leader). She became AIADMK propaganda secretary and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1984. In 1989, she was elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly as a representative of the Bodinayakkanur constituency. In this election Jayalalithaa-led faction of the AIADMK won 27 seats and she became the first woman to be the Leader of Opposition in Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Later, she served six terms as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu between 1991 and 2016.

The first welfare scheme launched by Jayalalithaa when she came to power in 1991 was the ‘cradle baby scheme’. Under this, anyone could anonymously give their newborn babies to the state, which would take care of the child. The scheme was aimed at lowering the number of female feticides and gender-based abortion.

In 2011, she implemented ‘Thalikku Thangam Thittam’ or ‘Gold for marriage’ scheme. It offered four grams of gold and cash of up to Rs 50,000 to financially backward women who have completed a degree or diploma. Other schemes included ‘Amma canteen’ which offered food for less than one rupee, ‘Amma laptops’ for higher secondary and college students, ‘Amma water’, ‘Amma grinder, mixer grinder and table fan’ and so on.

Vijayakanth

Before entering politics he was a successful actor, director and producer. He started his political career by forming the centre-left party Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005. He served as a Member of Legislative Assembly twice representing the constituency of Virudhachalam and Rishivandiyam respectively.

Kamal Haasan

Kamal Haasan, revered by his fans as Ulaganayakan or ‘Universal Hero’, floated Makkal Needhi Maaiam or MNM in 2018. The party emerged during the political turmoil and vacuum following the demise of then chief minister J Jayalalithaa in 2016. A multi-faceted personality, Kamal, in his previous avatar has been an actor, director, producer, singer and dancer. Always vocal about his perspectives and never shying away from speaking his mind, his political entry only seemed natural. MNM contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu and garnered about 3.8 per cent vote share in its debut, higher than the 3.6 per cent BJP secured in the state.

 N. T. Rama Rao

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, served as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms. Prior to it, he was an actor, director, producer and film editor. NTR started his political journey by forming the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982. In just nine months he came to power.

TDP won the election with a majority of 202 out of 294 seats in the state assembly and NTR became the first non-congress Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He became the Chief Minister two more times in 1985 and 1994.

NTR initiated the scheme of selling rice at 2kg for the poor. He also successfully modified the Hindu Succession Act to give equal rights for women and banned capitation fee-based admission in higher education.

Chiranjeevi

Chiranjeevi entered politics in 2008 by starting the political party ‘Praja Rajyam’. In 2009, he contested the general election from Tirupati and Palakollu. He won from Tirupati constituency.

In 2011, Chiranjeevi merged his party with the Indian National Congress. A year later he was nominated to Rajya Sabha and became a member in 2012. He was also the Union Minister of state with Independent charge for the Minister of Tourism in October 2012.

Smrithi Zubin Irani

The present minister of textiles Smriti Irani took part in the Miss India contest in 1998 and played the character of Tulsi Virani in the super hit TV serial ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ aired on Star Plus which made her a living room favourite. Irani’s political journey started in 2003 when she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and became the National Secretary in 2010. 

Hema Malini

Known as the ‘dream girl’, the heartthrob of Bollywood started her political career in 1999 when she campaigned for the actor Vinod Khanna, who was contesting for the Lok Sabha Elections. Later, she joined BJP officially. She was nominated as an MP to the upper house in 2003 for a six-year term by then-President Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. Later, in 2011 she won the Rajya Sabha by-election from Karnataka, however, she had only one year term. In 2014, she contested in Lok Sabha election for BJP from Mathura.

Shatrughan Sinha

Shatrughan Prasad Sinha, commonly called ‘Bihari Babu’, joined BJP initially. He became a cabinet minister in the Third Vajpayee ministry from the 13th Lok Sabha, holding two portfolios, the Department of Health and Family Welfare (Jan 2003-May 2004), and the department of shipping (August 2004). He left the party in 2019 and joined Indian National Congress as he was denied the seat in the 2019 general election. 

Vijayashanti

Popularly known as ‘Lady Amitabh’ of Tamil and Telugu cinema, Vijayashanti began her political career with the BJP in 1998 and was made secretary of the party’s Mahila Morcha. When the Telangana movement reached its peak, she quit from BJP and introduced her own regional party Talli Telangana, but could not sustain it for long. She merged her party with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in 2009 and got elected to Lok Sabha from Medak parliamentary constituency. Vijayashanti resigned from the TRS and joined the Congress when she was sidelined in TRS during the formation of Telangana in 2014. She campaigned for Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but later in 2020 she expressed her unhappiness with Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee for not inviting her for the party meetings. She joined BJP in 2020.

Jaya Bachchan

Jaya Bachchan starred in Satyajit Ray‘s Bengali film, Mahanagar at the age of 15. She was elected as MP for the first time from Samajwadi Party. She was elected again in 2006, 2012 and also in 2018.

This is not an exhaustive list.

Jayaprada, Khushbu, Sharada… the list of actor-turned-politicians goes on. And what is certain is one thing; performances do not stop, neither on reel nor in real.

Read: Khushbu Sundar in BJP: Here’s Your Dossier

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