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Monday, April 4, 2011

(Published in on 4 April 2011, retrieved from )

Politics and cinema have been so interrelated in Tamil Nadu that one finds it hard to recall the last Chief Minister who hasn’t penned the lyrics of a film song or danced around trees in a movie. But it isn’t often that you see four faces that have haunted Tamil cinema through the nineties outshine the veterans who are competing for the top job.

Over the last week of March, Vadivelu, Khushboo, Vijay and Vijaykanth pretty much shoved Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa out of the headlines. Incidentally, the drama followed a speech the DMK patron made at the launch of a film starring Prashanth and produced, like most of the actor’s others, by his father Thyagarajan.

After declaring that he was proving his commitment to cinema by launching a movie during elections, Karunanidhi said the charge that his family dominates the film industry is unfair; the film industry is his family. We’re not sure whether the statement was a metaphor – two of the octogenarian’s grandsons are acting in movies, while two are producing films, and his late son Muthu tried both.

Now that we’ve appreciated Karunanidhi’s ability to take time off from the campaign trail to hang out at film sets, let’s turn our attention to what the vernacular press has said about the people who’ve done the converse.

Is Vadivelu a slanderer or a lexicon?

It all started with Vadivelu, who made a speech on March 23, 2011, in Thiruvarur, allegedly criticising Vijaykanth. In the televised address, he demands, “Is the CM’s seat a musical chair?” This is the beginning of a series of revelations about what the world looks like through Vadivelu’s bubble.

After hailing Karunanidhi for going to jail with other politicians, he cries, “Here’s what I say to the man who launched his party yesterday – if you’re the Chief Minister, I’m the Prime Minister.” At this juncture, he turns to Karunanidhi and says rather incongruously, “sir, don’t think ill of me.”

His astute understanding of the Indian political system and international affairs becomes apparent when he says, “If you’re the Prime Minister, I’m the President. If you’re the President, I’m Obama.”

Perhaps it’s fortunate that Manmohan Singh, Pratibha Patil and Barack Obama don’t understand Tamil. Then again, India could try negotiating a Vadivelu-Warren Anderson Extradition Exchange Treaty if Obama were to file a defamation suit in Washington.

Back to the speech, though. Without making it clear whether he was indulging in self-introspection or analysis, Vadivelu goes on to ask, “can you say anything if you get drunk? After buying a two thousand rupee cap like MGR, glasses for Rs. 1.50, and a 25-paise handkerchief, he calls himself a black MGR. I’m a black Nehru,” he declares, and then frowns, “They call him Captain. Why? A person who sails a ship that floats on water is called a Captain, not a person who’s always floating under the influence of water (alcohol).”

He finishes off by saying Karunanidhi, who seats other people in power is a true kingmaker, and christens his bête noir a “drink-maker”, thus displaying his familiarity with both state politics and the brewing industry.

While Vijaykanth’s fans reacted by burning Vadivelu in effigy, the DMDK filed a series of complaints against him. The reportage, though, leaves one wondering which of the two actors is more delusional.

On March 29, the Tamil website of OneIndia reported, “Vadivelu, while addressing a rally in Kolathur, as usual singled out Vijaykanth for criticism.” The article goes on to say Vadivelu referred to Karunanidhi as having a “mother’s heart” in providing for foetuses through his welfare schemes, in addition to distributing mixies and grinders.

The rest of the article simply quotes Vadivelu: “Stalin is someone who entered politics when he was 12. He is just as active now. But Vijaykanth contested in 234 constituencies and won only one seat. The people in that constituency feel cheated. Vijaykanth beats up villains in films, but he uses dupes. We are the ones who’ve actually been beaten.” Vadivelu accuses Vijaykanth and his supporters of stoning his house and injuring his daughter when he was praying to Lord Shiva. The article wraps up on a rather indifferent note following Vadivelu’s emotional outburst, saying he campaigned at various bus depots and temples.

Dinathanthi’s headline on March 29 reads, “Vadivelu’s election campaign which urges people to vote for the DMK to thank them for their enormous achievements over a five-year period.” The rest of the piece reads almost exactly like OneIndia’s report, except to note that people had come in hordes to protect Vadivelu – it isn’t clear what danger the mob sought to avert.

Nakkeeran discusses Vadivelu’s verbal attacks in an article titled ‘Bloody Fool: Vadivelu attacks Vijaykanth’. The piece reads, “Vadivelu, campaigning in support of the DMK and against Vijaykanth in the Tambaram suburb of Chennai, said, ‘a nut calling itself the Black MGR has turned up. It says the land is not run well, and promises to win freedom for the people of the land. Are White British running the land now? Which party have you joined? You’ve joined a party that takes money! Bloody fool! You don’t have MGR’s colour or his character!’” The article ends without offering a verdict.

Vikatan reports that cases have been filed against Vadivelu under Section 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 171G (making false statements in connection with an election) and Section 505 (inducing public misconduct). The report says, “On March 23, addressing a rally led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi, actor Vadivelu had harsh criticism for DMDK leader Vijaykanth. The DMDK has filed a complaint, and asked that Vadivelu be banned for speaking about Vijaykanth, and his speeches barred from telecast. Following this, the chief official of the Election Commission ordered the Thanjavur Police to file a case against Vadivelu.”

DMK mouthpiece Murasoli reports, “DMDK workers have filed an unfair case against actor Vadivelu for remarks about Vijaykanth that he made on March 23 at Thiruvarur. There is an impression among people that the Election Commission is partial, that it discriminates between parties, and works with an agenda. People feel the EC takes immediate action on complaints against the DMK while ignoring complaints against the AIADMK. What followed the incident at Thiruvarur has reinforced this impression.”

The website then hails Vadivelu’s yeoman service in playing dictionary. “Vadivelu does not appear to have criticised Vijaykanth at all! He simply offered an explanation as to the word ‘Captain’, generally. We only remember his saying, ‘A person who sails a ship that floats on water is called a Captain, not a person who’s always floating under the influence of water’. We don’t remember Vijaykanth even acting on a ship floating on water!”

Vijay and his ‘Mass’

Actor Vijay, whose recent flops have drawn the ire of his producers, gave newspapers plenty to speculate about on Monday. He reportedly asked the members of his Makkal Iyakkam to support the AIADMK, but wouldn’t confirm it.

Dinamalar quotes Vijay’s father and film director S A Chandrashekhar as saying, “we don’t plan to join any party. We support the ADMK coalition. I plan to campaign for them. I don’t know whether Vijay will get involved.” For some reason, he assured the paper, “I’ve never asked any party leader, including Jayalalithaa, to help me get my films released.”

Dinathanthi has a different take on the issue: ‘Opposition to encouraging the ADMK coalition: Vijay’s fans burn Makkal Iyakkam member cards in Salem.’ The article reads, “Conveying their opposition to Vijay’s support to the ADMK coalition, his fans dissolved a Makkal Iyakkam, and burned their member cards. Vijay’s decision caused a dispute among his fans in Salem. Members of a fan club called the Ilayathalapathi Vijay Pokkiri Makkal Iyakkam (which translates literally into ‘Young General Vijay Naughty People’s Movement’) decided to dissolve it to protest against Vijay’s choice. On March 28 evening, President Aasaithambi, Secretary Manikandan and Treasurer Sasi, along with 25 others, gathered in front of the club, tore the flex board and burnt their member cards.”

The article quotes members, who seem mildly schizophrenic, as saying, “the fan club comprises people from various political parties. But Vijay has decided to support a particular party. We regret that he has made such a decision without consulting us. As far as we are concerned, we are supporters of the DMK. So we have decided to dissolve this branch.”

A catfight among heavyweights

It wasn’t just the men from the industry who got down and dirty. Actress Khushboo created a stir over the weekend while campaigning in Andipatti and other areas surrounding Madurai.

In an report titled ‘Khushboo launches attack against Jayalalithaa’, Nakkeeran says, “Khushboo, who started her campaign at M K Azhagiri’s house in Madurai said ‘The superstar in cinema is Rajnikanth. The superstar in politics is Anna Azhagiri.’ Then, she said, ‘We must cast aside Jayalalithaa who took a vacation for five years. If she could discard Vaiko who was with her for 5 years, think about what she could do to the common people. She has copied the election manifesto of the DMK. She won’t pass the test. She will fail. Yes, Jayalalithaa, who looked at Kalaignar’s paper and wrote the exam, will not fail.’” The article does not specify whether the actress was lost in her double negatives, or misread a word.

Dinamalar chose to focus on Khushboo’s stand on virginity. In a piece titled ‘The virginity issue is of the past: Khushboo’s interview’, the paper says, “Khushboo had already got into trouble for expressing her opinions on the chastity of women. Khushboo, who hosted a programme on Jaya TV, is now a member of the DMK. She began her campaign with a flying kiss in Madurai. Speaking to the press, she evaded questions on her comments about virginity, and said the Supreme Court had announced its verdict. When asked ‘Because of your comments on virginity, women don’t think highly of you. Won’t this cause problems on the campaign trail?’, Khushboo looked at the reporter, and demanded, ‘Are you from the ADMK?’ Ending the interview, she left to begin her campaign.”

Thinakkural was less concerned with her political acumen than her linguistic prowess. Its headline went ‘Khushboo, who murders Tamil while canvassing, and the followers who blink in incomprehension.’ After listing the areas she campaigned in, the article says, “Only what she said remained a mystery to the workers and followers who had gathered there.” It quotes her as saying, “Karunanidhi ensured the Tamil heart didn’t remain in the dark”, when she meant, “Karunanidhi ensured the pride of the Tamils didn’t remain in the dark.” She’s also quoted as saying, “None of you must believe me”, when she meant, “Don’t believe just anyone.” The actress, who moved to the South in the mid-1980s, after trying her luck in Bollywood, also reportedly said,“the benefits of the freebies will bite you” instead of “the benefits of the freebies will reach you.”

Dinathanthi made no reference to linguistic challenges, and chose to summarise Khushboo’s speeches, while highlighting the DMK’s schemes.
 Dinamani’s attention wasn’t on the content of Khushboo’s speech so much as what happened after. The paper reported, “Two cases have been filed against actress Khusbhoo for violating election rules, police said. She has been accused of obstructing traffic while canvassing for the DMK in Theni district. The other violation was that she engaged a convoy of 8 cars, without obtaining prior permission. The vehicles have been impounded.”

Meanwhile, AIADMK members seem to have taken umbrage at the suggestion that their leader copied the DMK manifesto. In a bid to prove she was serious about distributing freebies right after coming to power and not years later, AIADMK workers took laptops, grinders and mixies around their constituencies to show them to prospective beneficiaries. As they happily posed for pictures, reporters were less baffled by the logic of their methodology, than a worker’s statement that Jayalalithaa could be trusted to give away freebies on time, as she was a woman.


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