Cinema And Politics: How Films Were Used To Foment Anti-Modi, Anti-Centre Sentiment In Tamil Nadu

A poster of Rajinikanth starrer Kaala (pic via Facebook)

Recently concluded Lok Sabha elections saw Tamil Nadu insulated from the “Modi wave”, while opposition party in the state, DMK, managed a clean sweep. The elections also saw wide circulation of fake news and secessionist material through Whatsapp and social media among common Tamils.

While Bharatiya Janata Party has taken to task its state leadership over the result, movies might be another factor that helped foment an ‘anti-establishment’ narrative. more than a dozen commercially successful movies released in the last three years promoted ‘anti-Modi’ feeling, reports Economic Times.

LKG, Joker, Mersal, Irumbuthirai, Tamil Padam 2, Natpe Thunai 2, Kaala, Sarkar, and Uriyadi all had a political, anti-establishment message. Overtly or covertly, they raised disappointment with the current state of affairs and provoked change.

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A scene showing a politician ordering firing on innocent protesters mimicked Sterlite protests, whereas a scene with state leaders falling at the feet of centre politicians was a direct dig at BJP dictating terms to the AIADMK-led state government

An arrogant central government not giving farmers an audience reminded people of Tamil Nadu farmers fasting in Delhi while Rajinikanth-starrer super hit Kaala, with a sly reference to an officebearer of BJP, pitted Dalit ideology against Hindutva. There were also references of problems caused by GST, demonetisation.

Advertising and media expert Santosh Desai feels Dravidian parties have perfected the grammar of making commercially successful movies with political content. “Propaganda works well with shorter content that can be circulated easily,” he said. “When one has to think of an elaborate form like a film, it has to be entertaining to get people to invest time to watch it and money to spend on it. And one needs to know what works as a movie, what doesn’t. Uri works because it has the right ingredient but an old story about an indecisive prime minister (Accidental Prime Minister) doesn’t.”

There were also several Bollywood movies that invigorated a spirit of nationalism, like Uri, Manikarnika, building a conducive atmosphere for a nationalist party like BJP. However, the impact of these movies in Hindi heartland was muted when compared to that of Tamil cinema in Tamil Nadu. The use of cinema to promote political content has a long history in Tamil Nadu. “Be it Karunanidhi or MGR, both have used movies to drive home their politics. Now filmmakers are using cinema and strong imagery to drive home a political point,” said Kavitha Muralidharan, writer and political commentator.

“Many of these movies added to the myth that the Centre is authoritarian and that its schemes are just on paper,” said SG Suryah, vice president of the BJP youth wing in Tamil Nadu.

“It is no coincidence that Petta and Sarkar, both with very strong message against the government, were produced by Sun Pictures,” he alleged. Sun Pictures is a film distribution and production studio unit of Chennai owned by Sun TV Network owned by Kalanithi Maran who is associated with DMK.

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