Just after he was sworn in as a minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet led by his father M K Stalin, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) heir-apparent Udhayanidhi Stalin said he plans to quit acting and take to full-time politics.
It is now widely believed that post the Stalin era, the leadership of the DMK will be handed down to Udhayanidhi, given that Stalin and his extended family wants to ensure a smooth succession for him. No one in the family would wish for young Udhayanidhi to wait too long to assume the mantle as his father did.
Udhayanidhi also claimed that he now will devote himself to handling the ministerial responsibility handed over by his party. If Udhayanidhi is true to his words, his upcoming movie, Kannai Nambathey, will be the last he will feature as an actor.
Interestingly, the movie title translates to "seldom believe your eyes", which echoes the question most people and seasoned political observers are now asking: should one believe the announcement coming from the young DMK scion especially given his family's generational obsession with the tinsel town?
There is always a need for Udhayanidhi to focus more on the political challenges at hand, given the imminent coronation as the next DMK supremo. He and his cohorts must ensure that his ministry doesn't collapse under the weight of expectations coming in from all quarters.
On the other hand, the 45-year-old youth wing leader has to face political challenges coming from the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Tamilnadu unit, K Annamalai.
While ardent DMK supporters and a significant section of local media, which is often indistinguishable from the official propaganda arm of the party, are hoping that Udhayanidhi will stay true to his word and spare them from the embarrassment of defending the indefensible, few political observers in the state feel that it is unlikely that Udhaynidhi will extinguish his acting ambitions. They cite the long history of the DMK first family's obsession with the cinema industry and, in particular, one unfulfilled dream that continues to consume them.
DMK's first family always has unsuccessfully aspired for film super-stardom for someone from the family, and has time and again tried their best to use power to see if that goal could be achieved.
From Udhayanidhi's grandfather M Karunanidhi and many others in the clan, including his father, Stalin, the family has always struggled to manufacture a star actor within the family ranks, despite all influence and money power they have wielded over the Tamil movie industry for decades.
Karunanidhi, who scripted movies in the 60s, had a long association with the Tamil movie industry. He scripted close to 45 odd movies in a period spanning four decades.
It is well known that Shri Sundaram, who owned the famed Modern Theatres in Salem, had offered the much-needed initial financial support for Karunanidhi, in the early days when he was making a beginning, both as an aspiring writer and a politician.
From thereon, he started making the cut as a young leader with the blessings of the late C N Annadurai (popularly known as Anna). He continued to work in movies after he became DMK leader post-Annadurai, and even during his multiple stints as chief minister later.
It would be interesting to note that during his career as a scriptwriter, the movies which became successful always had a star cast, such as the late Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo M G Ramachandran (popularly known as MGR )or the veteran Shivaji Ganesan playing lead roles.
Other than a handful of such movies, most of them scripted by Karunanidhi were commercial flops despite all the clout he wielded both in and out of power.
Even in his heydays, rumours were rife that a battery of talented writers assisted Karunanidhi, and most of his work was theirs, with his title.
Given his middling career in the movie industry, Karunanidhi attempted to position his eldest son, M K Muthu as an actor leveraging his contacts and influence in the industry.
The attempt was not only to craft a career for Muthu but to create him as a counter to charismatic MGR, who made waves as a successful actor and was politically on a collision course with Karunanidhi.
In all, Muthu acted in seven movies, most of which were disasters for the producers, and the actor. Ultimately, he could be neither a successful actor nor a political heir apparent, which is what the late DMK leader wanted. He faded into oblivion and later emerged as a major source of constant embarrassment for Karunanidhi later in life.
Even Chief Minister Stalin tried his hands at acting. In the late eighties, he was featured as a lead star in two movies (Ore Ratham and Makkal Aanayittal) and two TV series (Kurinji Malar and Surya). Despite the seeming earnestness that Stalin attempted to bring to the roles he essayed, his performances continue to serve as meme material for his opponents.
All this, and the recent dabbling of the first family in the Tamil moviedom aka Kollywood, by Udhayanidhi, show one thing — despite all the political success of the family over decades, through the grandfather, father and son trio, the first family has always sought status as 'movie superstars', which has now become a key ingredient to be hugely successful in the state's politics.
More than that, there has always been this feeling that none of them from Karunanidhi's extended family could even get remotely close to MGR and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. They achieved unmatched stardom and charisma through movies, so much so that if they hadn't come with that level of popularity, they could never have made it to the high office in a movie-obsessed state like Tamil Nadu.
Udhayanidhi himself has waded his way through the movie business as a producer and actor, often facing accusations of deploying arm-twisting tactics and the sheer power of the family holding political office.
The growth of his production house, Red Giant Movies, has been in sync with the time and years that his party, DMK, held power in government under his grandfather Karunanidhi in 2006-2011 and now under his father who assumed office in mid-2021.
Until 2021, when the DMK rode to power and Stalin took over as Chief Minister, the production house has managed the distribution of almost 25 odd movies and produced a handful, while in its entire existence since 2016, the company has distributed roughly the same number, 25.
These numbers show how the first family leverages the power in their hands, when their party DMK is in power to wade their way through Kollywood and be a hugely successful monopoly, dreaded by almost all the stars worth their name in Tamil Nadu.
Through his production house, Udhayanidhi has also managed to act as a hero in about seven movies in all these years. While these movies had seen a grand release, which is only reserved for the big stars in the state (Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vijay and Ajith), none of the movies went on to become a success worthy of being written about.
His production house Red Giant used its power in the distribution business, thus coaxing exhibitors across the state to give his movies the maximum number of screens and ensuring that there was no competing movie release, to hit the already low footfalls his movies would get in the early days of the release.
Considering all this, and the compelling need for a star from the first family remains elusive, it is natural that Udhayanidhi will continue dabbling in acting, to try and be a big star at best or to stay relevant, at the least.
Not just that, in the event of a political downfall for the party in the electoral fray, staying an actor is the best insurance for someone like Udhayanidhi, who is by no stretch of the imagination close to his illustrious grandfather and even jos father, in stature, and perception as a leader.
Looking at all these, the chances of Udhayanidhi calling it quits from his dabbling in acting look remote. And public memory being short, will be an incentive for the actor-politician to do so, as and when he chooses to.
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