Politics and films: An Indian affair

March 12, 2009

The Congress party has bought the rights to “Jai Ho”, the Oscar-winning song from “Slumdog Millionaire”, to use for its election campaign.

Although popular Bollywood song tunes have always been used after being set to new lyrics for canvassing votes, acquiring the rights to a song for election campaigning is a possible first.

Congress leaders said the song, whose title is Hindi for “Let There be Victory,” will be played during rallies in rural towns, villages and cities. But why did the party go so far as to get the song rights?

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi cited the Oscar wins as a result of good governance and inclusive democracy under UPA rule.

Popular culture in India has politics, movies, cricket and religion as predominant ingredients and elections are a mix of all these.

The list of movie stars who have contested and won elections is a long one.

Occasionally a politician also forays into acting — like communist party leader Brinda Karat in the film “Amu”.

Sports and politics also mix well. Cricketers like Vinod Kambli and footballer I.M.Vijayan have acted in films. Former India player Kirti Azad has contested elections while former cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin recently joined the Congress.

But the link between movies and politics is even stronger.

A simple Google search throws up various theories that try to explain why popularity on the screen transforms into votes in India.

Identifying oneself as a fan of a movie star in India is seen as assertion of one’s identity, which may be regional, linguistic or along caste lines.

Thus Indian fans are said to relate to their favourite stars at a very personal level.

The popularity of religious belief in ‘darshan’ or ‘seeing’ the deity and be ‘seen’ by her is said to have parallels with watching cinema and the way movie stars are perceived by people.

The tradition of worshipping people, as in saints and teachers, is also linked to this. Indian movie stars have been worshipped in temples in some cases.

The sheer number of films produced in India and the fact that they are affordable also ensures that the stars have wide recognition.

But though cinema is popular all over India, it is only in southern India that movie stars have had the most success as popular politicians. Movies and politics have the strongest links there.

There is no clear explanation as to why?

The “Jai Ho” song is in Hindi, a language the southern Indian electorate has an uneasy relationship with.

But will that limit its electoral appeal?


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Dear Vipul,Thanks for giving the insights about the selected slogan of Congress(I) and the aspirations of the voters. But, I don’t think that this slogan is going to create a miracle for the Congress in coming general elections. Nevertheless, we have already seen the fate of India Shining in 2004.Now, you have said that Movies and politics have the strongest links in South India. However, you have not go into the reasons of this. As per my observations, the south indians have always been a stauch supporters of their culture. All the actors turned political heavyweights have played gods or demi gods in their films and in this way, they picturised themselves as a carrier of culture to some extent. They also played Robinhoods in India context, this also paid to some extent.Thanks for such a good pieceBalendu Priyadarshan

Posted by Balendu Priyadarshan | Report as abusive

dear vipul,exactly how was slumdog’s oscar wins a result of UPA’s “good governance”?i don’t think the two are even remotely related.

Posted by swagat mishra | Report as abusive

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If you are looking for reason why film stars are big political figures in Tamilnadu and Andra and its not entire south india..then its the legacy of NTR and MGR in these states whose good work while in power has permanently made a place in the hearts of people for film stars. karnataka on the other hand has more sensible and educated people who do not spend all their time on movies and are not crazy for movies either. As far as elections in karnataka is concerned congress will never win becuase of loose moral values, minority appeasement and vote bank politics it does..Not that any other major party in karnataka is good to be elected but either JD(s) or BJP will win simply because we dont want congress to win.

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

You are partly correct in your observations on the links between politics and cinema in India. While in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu, politics has become the preferred second career for retiring or rejected actors, there has also been a tradition of political cinema in India, or cinema used for making political statements, which challenged the existing status quo. I am reminded of directors like Mrinal Sen (Interview, Calcutta 71, Padatik), Shyam Benegal (Junoon, The Making of the Mahatma, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero), Buddhadev Dasgupta (Grihajuddha), Goutam Ghose (Ma Bhoomi, Kalbela), Mani Ratnam (Kannathil Muthamittal), and Girish Kasaravalli. Hope you give more coverage to political cinema in India.

Posted by Amitava Ray | Report as abusive

Movie stars have been successful in getting elected not only in India, but also all over the world. Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger are some of the recent names in USA that comes to mind. Popularity always helps in politics.

Posted by Sudipta | Report as abusive

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Ronald Reagan- who were they before entering politics•• Anita,• As I reminded (several times) Mauryan in the past, you should watch your writings. Sure, you can praise Karnataka as much as you want but you may want to refrain from making caustic remarks about other linguistic states. Movies are a universal source of entertainment and Hollywood celebrities are recognized all over the world. Japanese, Chinese and even Kim of NKorea watch them. Hindi film actors are next only to them in claiming GLOBAL reputation, following and marvel. Tamil and Telugu stars are next only to Hindi stars for adulation all over the world, hope you follow me.• I can always counter your arguments, that, Karnataka had failed to produce stars with the following the few tamil/ telugu actors enjoy; presumably, their acting skills fail to meet Kannadigas expectations. Kannadigas hence like to prefer and watch actors who don’t speak kannada .• Coming to actors becoming politicians-I won’t be dismissive in my overview: when they have role models like Ronald Reagan and Arney of LA, what more inspiration do actors need for their obverting.• Some Pak bloggers openly expressed disdain with same old faces ruling Islamabad in turns, term after term; these leaders who ran out of new ideas repeat same old failed policies. The matinee idols of India provide a bloodless revolution to the respite of states besieged by dirty corrupt congress politicians (ruling endlessly for lack of competition).• Soundarya, during her zenith of acting career, died in a plane crash campaigning for BJP in Karnataka.

Posted by AzadDP | Report as abusive

The Congress party looks over confident like the NDA did in 2004.

Posted by reddy | Report as abusive

Just one suggestion to congress – Do not over do with “Jai ho”, the junta may just not “Feel Good” about the hype.

Posted by Aaruni Upadhyay | Report as abusive

Hollywood can boast that it is the movie capital of the world but the movie industry in India is so intertwined with people at all levels of society that it is scary to think of this society devoid of its movie industry. Take away food, water, and I dare say air and a lot of people will complain but take away the movies and these movie buffs will become totally dysfunctional. Life for these people will come to a total halt and they would not know what to do and will move around like zombies. From cradle to grave movies provide a certain kind of entertainment to the addicted that it is like religion. Movie stars are worshipped like demigods in India. In terms of comparative clout of stars in India and the USA, Hollywood stars will have to move to the proverbial back of the bus. This is the country where temples are built for movie stars and huge cutouts of the stars bathed in milk and worshipped before the release of a movie starring the blessed ones. Though such activities are self promoting and cheap, the stars condone such celebrations. It is said that sometimes the producers of movies finance such celebrations as a marketing ploy to advertise their movies. Such exhibition of fan loyalty though sick, comes with the territory in Indian movie industry.

When these stars capitalize on their popularity and try to enter politics, a totally new and alien field for which they are not trained or equipped, the situation becomes pathetic. The common man and woman try to put them with great expectations at the top in a totally different field based on their performance in the movies. If such cross field success is the norm then I have the following recommendations. For the next Robot kind of movie, Mr. Narayanamurthy instead of superstar Rajni because the former has been very successful in putting India on the global map of technology. I think the character of the Robot itself should be played by none other than Mr. Azim Premji, another giant in the IT field. And who else can I recommend for Ms. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s role other than Ms. Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi International? Or how about giving the scalpel to a person who has been an eminent lawyer and ask him to perform delicate neurosurgery on your one and only child? I hope the absurdity comes through clearly.

Whenever the stars are felicitated at a function and you ask them about reasons for the success of a movie, they will shed their ego and in the spirit of the moment enumerate the producer, the director, the art director and a host of others including the lowly light boy as the reason for the success. Without their knowledge and under the intoxication of the festivities for a fleeting second they are being totally honest. Yes, the truth is that the movie was successful because of the team, not just the star. This being the case, these stars claim that they can do a wonderful job as a politician that the so called “stalwarts” haven’t been able to do. When an actor is asked if he would like to say anything about the prospects of his entering politics, the stock answer is “no comment at this time.”
I wish they would for once say, “No, I have no intention of entering politics, God has blessed me in my chosen field, I have made enough money, it is time I put my efforts in some small and simple grass root level social projects to help a village at a time.” He would have a built a temple for himself in everyone’s heart.

Mr. Amitabh Bachchan is a great actor and many want to emulate him. He was in politics but swears now that he will not touch politics with a ten foot pole. How about emulating Mr. Bachchan on this?

We should be remembered for our work. Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, a Bharat Ratna brought fame to the art she was blessed with leaving behind music for ages to come but with no other monument or an edifice to mark her tenure on earth. Humility, thy name is MS.

Presently, politics in Tamil Nadu is controlled by two dynasties. They both started with lofty goals like – loosely translated in English – Duty, Honor, and Restraint. These have been thrown by the wayside. The dynasty in power usually gets caught up in corruption and incompetency until the public forgets the corruption and incompetencies exhibited during the other dynasty’s tenure and realize that the previous dynasty’s shenanigans pale in comparison to those of the dynasty in power and elect the previous dynasty to power. This cycle repeats.

The government at the center is no gem either. The Nehru years from 1947 to 1964 were highlighted by inaction. After that the country has mostly been governed by the Nehru family to various degrees of “prosperity” along with scams and corruption galore. A single party majority government has become a thing of the past and coalition governments have been of great disservice to India.
There is a dearth of political stalwarts like Winston Churchill throughout the world. Ronald Reagan, a movie star turned politician is remembered better as the Governor of California than the President of the United States. George W. Bush is remembered better as the Governor of Texas than the President of the United States.

To put man’s insignificance on earth, let’s compress the 14-billion-year history of the Universe into one day, or 86400 seconds. Thus, the Big Bang occurred at t=0 and now is at 24 hours. Our Galaxy formed just a few hours after the Big Bang. Our Solar System formed at about 16 hours; in other words, two-thirds of the day passed before the Solar System formed. Homo sapiens appeared about 1 second ago, and a long lifetime of 100 years is 0.0006 seconds – less than 1/1000 of a second. Our lives are a blink of an eye in the history of the Universe.

If we had only intellectuals in our societies the choosing of our leaders will be less erroneous. In India, the movie stars instead of aspiring for elected offices can do the following with help from intellectuals and thinkers who put country in front of self.

1. Demand manifestos from the different parties and analyze them
2. Choose the best party and its candidates
3. Educate the public to vote for the best party and give it a majority mandate to avoid coalition governments which ends up in horse trading
4. Monitor the performance of the elected party and make sure the things in the manifesto are fulfilled
5. At the end of the tenure repeat the process.

I know it is easier said than done. Heck, we have tried everything else. Why not give this a shot?

Posted by SeeNoEvil | Report as abusive