How Udayanidhi Stalin's Coronation As Next DMK Supremo Is Set To Be Achieved Through Strategic Control Of Movie Industry And Media

How Udayanidhi Stalin's Coronation As Next DMK Supremo Is Set To Be Achieved Through Strategic Control Of Movie Industry And Media

by Mohan Idiculla - Nov 19, 2022 06:31 PM +05:30 IST
How Udayanidhi Stalin's Coronation As Next DMK Supremo Is Set To Be Achieved Through Strategic Control Of Movie Industry And MediaCM Stalin at movie preview
  • The eventual coronation of DMK heir-apparent Udhayanidhi Stalin is being achieved by establishing complete control of movie and media industry.

A massive publicity overdrive for an upcoming movie is not unusual in Kollywood. But the flurry of promotion in the run-up to a just-released movie has garnered considerable attention.

Titled Kalagathalaivan (roughly translates to 'someone who creates confusion'), the movie, which hit the screens across the state on Friday, has DMK youth wing secretary and heir apparent Udhayanidhi Stalin playing the protagonist.

Udhayanidhi is also a leading producer and distributor in Kollywood, now owning the all-pervasive Red Giant Movies.

This company currently has an undeclared monopoly over the movie business in Tamil Nadu. Red Giant is now a giant in the truest sense, with a near stranglehold over the entire movie value chain in the state.

DMK ministers and cadres join in celebrating the movie's release

In the run-up to the release, none other than the CM of Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin, who is also Udhayanidhi's father, watched the movie along with his family in a much-publicised event, thereby sending a discrete signal to the DMK cadres to patronise it, and its hero, Udhayanidhi.

Quickly and along expected lines, many ruling party leaders and cadres, from senior ministers to legislators to office bearers to mayors to councillors to IT wing operatives, took to Twitter and Facebook and shared their congratulatory messages to Udhayanidhi.

With glee and gushing sycophancy, they proclaimed that their charismatic youth wing leader had arrived to change the status quo within the party and state (the movie title also appears to be an intelligent wordplay as it sounds similar to 'Kazhagathalaivan' which translates as the leader of Kazhagam).

Can a movie dramatically reshape the political landscape of a state?

Conventional wisdom will say 'no', given that it's just a movie. But then there is Tamil Nadu exceptionalism.

So unsurprisingly, we will find millions of DMK cadres, party faithful and even a section of the general public who may genuinely believe that a film starring Udhayanidhi could be a harbinger of change within and beyond the party and the state.

The most prominent of the Chief Ministers of the state, M G Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa, and M Karunanidhi (Udhayanidhi's grand-father), all have a background in the movie industry and rose to the seat of power in Fort St George based on their cinema-driven popularity.

Udhayanidhi's PR Blitz

A handful of observers, who track the state's political developments closely, are of the view that the PR blitz in the run-up to the movie aims at bolstering Udhayanidhi's credibility, acceptability, and the 'boy-next-door' image, just in case the young leader takes up a larger role, not just in the party, but the state government headed by his father.

A cursory search for Udhayanidhi on YouTube will throw up a barrage of interviews of the heir apparent with prominent Tamil channels in the past fortnight, including those conducted by individual vloggers seen to be sympathetic to the ruling party.

A closer look at some of these promotional videos and one cannot miss the attempt to build a 'cool and people-friendly' image for Udayanidhi Stalin. This is not just in the Youtube interviews, where the hosts seemingly get up close and personal with Udhayanidhi, but the same is the case in many of his recent public appearances.

Unlike the earlier DMK regimes, wherein the leaders came across as brash and resorted to an aggressive display of authority, Udhayanidhi is careful in cultivating a soft-spoken boy-next-door image.

In some of these interviews, when quizzed about the stranglehold of Red Giant in the Tamil movie business, he is seen and heard claiming that all the company's deals are professional, and the movie producers see a win-win relationship when they deal with him/his company.

And there is enough chatter created by a pliable YouTube ecosystem and some sections of the TN broadcast and print media that sustains a narrative that most producers see immense value and professional gain in dealing with Red Giant, and that's the only reason they have grown by leaps in the past two years (to coincide with DMK assuming power).

Red Giant has distributed over 25 odd movies in the past decade, and almost the same number after DMK assumed power in 2021, demonstrating the kind of stranglehold the company has on the movie ecosystem of the state.

This domination is being leveraged to propel the leader to positions in the party and maybe in the government as and when the need/opportunity occurs.

Rise of Udhayanidhi and internal party dynamics

According to a few seasoned political observers in the state, the concerted image-building campaign in the past month or so is part of a carefully calibrated exercise to craft an 'affable' and man of the masses' image around Udhayanidhi.

The campaign is intended to appeal to the public and persuade party loyalists and fence-sitters among party cadre, who still need to be convinced that Udhayanidhi can be their next party supremo. 

"The current image-building exercise will help sideline any other aspirants within the ruling family or the the party fold." says a senior Tamil journalist.

It is also interesting to note that in the recent past, there have been several reports in party-friendly newspapers that Udayanidhi's political trajectory is likely to be fast-tracked, and he would not have to wait long as his father, M.K Stalin, had to. 

According to many political observers and local journalists who follow DMK's internal politics, Udayanidhi was close to being sworn in as a key minister in the state cabinet earlier this year. But, the plan did not eventually materialise due to unresolved issues within the extended family and resistance from senior ministers, who have been with the party for three decades or more.

Some senior ministers believed that Udayanidhi's elevation could send a wrong message to the public about the government's priorities. Many among the party's old guard may have also feared losing relevance with the young brigade in charge.

The Son-in-Law rises too.

In all this, the surprise element, even as per many within the DMK, is the emergence of Sabareesan, the son-in-law of the CM, as a primary power centre in the party and even the government.

Sabareesan played a key role in strategising the electoral campaign until the elections, liaising closely with renowned election strategist Prashant Kishore. With the advent of Stalin as CM, the son-in-law is said to have consolidated his hold and turned a de facto power centre, much to the chagrin of many seniors and the party cadre.

The rise of a parallel power centre might have accelerated the timelines for the plan to coronate Udhayanidhi eventually.

Pliant and pliable media plays along

The media ecosystem in Tamil Nadu, large sections of which enjoy proximity to the ruling party, has been co-opted to help build the 'people friendly' and the boy next door image for Udhayanidhi.

Notably, the same set of ecosystem (YouTube plus a pliable broadcast and print media in the state) helped the DMK party craft a potent anti-Modi rhetoric in the run-up to the last assembly elections. As per observers, this strategy worked out extremely well for DMK to build a favourable narrative for the party and its leader when assembly elections were held and even to date.

Given that a large section of the population in the state consume movies as a staple diet and form opinions based on what they see in movies, the concerted campaign in social media with this new movie release is a clear signal that a bigger role awaits Udhayanidhi, be it his DMK party, or be it in the government-run by his father and DMK honcho, M K Stalin.

This event, though it may not happen immediately, is bound to happen sooner or later, given that many observers of the DMK party/its politics feel that the present DMK leader MK Stalin will not waste much time in' officially' grooming the son, as the next in command, and possible future head of the grand old party.

And, rightfully so, the party and the first family think the same would work well for Udayanidhi Stalin when the time is ripe for his official rise.

If this time-tested tactic for them works or otherwise, is a question for the future.

Freelance writer, and student of politics
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