Given how Kollywood is so inextricably interlinked with politics in Tamil Nadu, it is natural that even the run-up to the release of movies is often laced with political undertones.
An upcoming bilingual movie, Varisu/Vaarisudu, starring reigning Kollywood superstar Joseph Vijay Chandrasekhar (popularly known as Vijay) and set to hit the screens around Pongal/Sankranthi next year (mid-Jan 2023), is the latest to stir a political controversy.
The movie is produced by a leading Telugu producer, Dil Raju, and is directed by Vamsi Padipally.
The fact that a big-ticket Tamil movie is being produced by a Tollywood (Telugu film industry) production house has led to a fair share of controversy in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra.
Many exhibitors and distributors in Andhra and Telangana advocate that 'original' Telugu movies (implying those with Telugu artists) must get screen preference on a big release day like Sankranthi.
Across the border, in Tamil Nadu, actor-turned-politician Seeman, whose outfit Naam Tamilar Katchi claims to combat 'Telugu' domination of Tamil land, said that if Vaarisudu/Varisu doesn't get screens in the Telugu states, his party will make sure Telugu or dubbed movies meet the same fate in Tamil Nadu.
Even if some of these so-called controversies can be dismissed as publicity stunts by fringe forces, it is hard to miss the fact that this Vijay movie is being badgered by some problem or other in key markets – so much so that the movie's eventual success could be at stake too.
That's not all.
The movie has a real operational challenge in reaching theatres, which many think could be a big problem for Vijay and the movie's producers.
On the same day that Varisu will hit the screens in Tamil Nadu, another big movie, Thunivu starring Ajith Kumar, directed by H Vinoth and produced by Boney Kapoor, will also release. And the distribution rights for this movie are with none other than Red Giant movies, owned by the DMK scion, Udhayanidhi Stalin.
The industry (including Kollywood producers, distributors, and exhibitors) is rife with rumours that there is already discrete pressure through Red Giant and the ruling party to limit the screens which the Vijay movie would get on the big release day.
It is pertinent to note that with the power and might of both the party and Red Giant at work, it will be very difficult for the exhibitors not to heed the word. Also, with most of the big and even small movie distribution rights in Kollywood being lapped up by Red Giant, theatres and distributors who don't heed the 'friendly' word could meet tough times.
Udhayanidhi, when quizzed on this brewing controversy of whether his production house Red Giant is pressuring exhibitors to give complete preference to Ajith starrer Thunivu, has either chosen to remain silent or has just smiled off questions.
It is also well known in Kollywood circles that no one dares to voice any adverse opinion on anything to do with Red Giant, which proves the iron-fist that comes into play if there are murmurs in any quarter.
Vijay's own political ambitions
Actor Vijay has always been known to nurture political ambitions and is biding his time for a formal political plunge. If he will succeed or at least make a limited impact like what Vijayakanth could do with his party, the Desiya Dravida Murpokku Kazhagam (DMDK), is something that remains to be seen.
Yet, given that Udhayanidhi and his formidable ecosystem are working on his eventual elevation in the government, and much later, head of the party itself (after his father and the present DMK leader M K Stalin), they are quite wary of any competition, in whatever form.
The DMK is also observing the actions of Vijay's fans associations, which usually get a lot of visibility in the media.
Interestingly, Vijay held a meeting with the office bearers of his fans association on Sunday (yesterday) and said to have discussed recent developments.
It is a very well-known fact that the political arm of his fans association, the Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, is actively stoking the actor's political ambitions. This movement had a good start, and won in a few pockets during local body elections held last year.
On Vijay's meeting with the key office bearers of the fan clubs and their political arm, many observers feel that the actor had suggested the next step to them, depending on how the ruling DMK gives Varisu space across theatres in TN.
Of course, as they would do, Vijay supporters say that all such chatter around the film is only speculation and that the actor only asked his fans to take care of their families and work hard for themselves before taking part in any social work.
Interestingly, S.A Chandrasekhar, Vijay's father and a former film director who played a pivotal role in the actor's rise to stardom, recently shared a stage with former Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisamy. While the actor and his father have been estranged for a while, the surprise appearance of Chandrasekhar at an ADMK-related event has set the tongues wagging. Few producers close to Vijay maintain that the actor still seeks his father's counsel despite their occasional feuds.
Some Vijay fans also claim that the insipid box-office performance of his previous movie 'Beast' was also a part of an orchestrated attempt to reduce the stature of their hero. Maran-brothers owned Sun group produced the movie.
Uday vs Vijay?
Great care is being taken by those strategising for Udhayanidhi to make sure that there are not too many fronts to tackle in the battle for his supremacy as and when the need arises. It is in this context that one must see that even the prominent DMK second-line leader and Finance Minister P T R Palanivel Rajan has kind of taken a backseat from a time when he used to be in the news almost every day.
And most of the senior DMK leaders, who served the former DMK leader M Karunanidhi, have chosen to maintain a stoic silence on anything to do with the ascension of Udhayanidhi Stalin.
It is only the young brigade, who cheers Udhayanidhi by the day, that is to be seen gaining prominence both in the party and even in the news in local media.
Those who want to survive in the new DMK know very well that sycophancy and obeisance to Udhayanidhi will be a critical survival skill. This is why even some prominent faces keep expressing their wish that Udhayanidhi is elevated to become a minister immediately, 'as he has all the competence to don such roles'.
Political observers who know the state well firmly opine that many in the DMK top brass who are for Udhayanidhi's swift elevation firmly believe that it's not going to be easy for him. They point to the unmissable emergence of Stalin's son-in-law, Sabareesan, as a major power centre in the party and the government.
It's for everyone to see that the son-in-law is extremely ambitious, they note.
And as if this is not enough, they are quick to point out the rapid strides BJP's state leader and former IPS officer Annamalai is making by the day.
These observers feel that Udhayanidhi can ill-afford to have more opponents at this point, as he cannot open multiple battle flanks, even as he gains control of his party and his political career.
In all this, it's but natural for Udhayanidhi, his Red Giant productions, and his party, the DMK, to stifle people like actor Vijay, or anyone similar, so that they don't turn out to be thorns in Uday's possible rosy path to leadership, in the party and government.
Freelance writer, and student of politics
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