Tamil Nadu

Flop Show: Kamal Haasan's Venture Into Politics

K Balakumar

Mar 01, 2024, 06:36 PM | Updated Mar 03, 2024, 09:00 AM IST

Actor turned politician Kamal Hassan (Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Actor turned politician Kamal Hassan (Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • Haasan is reportedly waiting for the DMK to allot a seat to him from their quota.
  • That is where his political journey stands seven years after he started it.
  • Last week, Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) celebrated its seventh anniversary.

    When actor Kamal Haasan founded the party in 2018, it was pretty much out of the blue. For, it was a time when political expectations were focused on his filmdom arch rival, Rajinikanth.

    It is totally another story that the superstar never really got to the starting blocks. In a sense, it takes moral courage to pull out after rousing expectations. But Rajini will be mostly judged as a political choker.

    Anyway, back to Haasan. In the February of 2018, there was much goodwill for the man who is considered to be the thinking man's actor. In the event, his politics, too, was expected to be high-brow.

    Haasan, in the initial flush of his arrival, typically talked of weeding out the dross and debris in the political cesspool. He vauntingly projected himself as being against the entrenched Dravidian politics of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as well as the Hindutva of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

    Even if he sounded naive or even foolhardy, Haasan seemed to be well-meaning.

    Alas, in the six years since his party's launch, Haasan, the politician, seems to have lost all meaning. Now he is at a stage where he is, for all practical purposes, bargaining for a ticket to contest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections with the very same DMK against whom he founded his party.

    Haasan, of course, is not the first person to sleep with the enemy in politics, as it were. Nor will he be the last. But what is worrying in Haasan's case is his party does not seem to stand for anything meaningful. It is a party whose ideology, if that is the word, is filled with political banalities as if thrown up by ChatGPT.

    There Is No Raison D’etre To MNM

    Again, to be charitable to MNM, ideology need not be the be-all-and-end-all of party politics. But a political unit has to project a purpose that strikes a chord with the public.

    A party has to bring something to the table. Why do you think the Congress and the AIADMK seem to be fast fading into oblivion? The parties seem keen on being everything to everybody. Broadbasing your appeal is fine in principle but you must have something solid in the middle to hold everything together.

    The Congress, as a political unit, lacks a distinct character now. The AIADMK, in its current avatar, has lost its mojo because it is not steadfastly holding on to its founding principle of anti-DMKism.  

    To get back to Haasan, ask yourself what does MNM bring to the table? What is its raison d'etre? For instance, do we know its position on the NEET exam? Do we know its stand on the Mekedatu project?  Has the party any view on the alleged corruption scandals of the DMK ministers? Haasan once derisively said that the biggest insult to M Karunanidhi is to just pop up the name 'Stalin'. Does he still stick by it? 

    But come to think of it, MNM's problem may not be the fact that it has no set goals. It has a bigger issue to contend with. And that is Kamal Haasan. The man has been uninspiring and insipid as a politician.

    MGR, Jayalalithaa, and Vijayakanth — three of the biggest names from Kollywood who did well in politics — had natural leadership qualities. And they, especially MGR and Jaya, were able to inspire not just their partymen but also the general public. They brought in a sense of purpose to their politics and seemed really interested in the issues of the public.

    Haasan, on the other hand, seems ivory-caged. His articulation skills, most convoluted even in the best of times, does not allow him to make a connect with the public.

    MGR was no great orator. If anything, his words after the unfortunate shooting incident, appeared a bit garbled. But there was still a warmth to his speeches and there was directness to his lines. Of course, Jayalalithaa was a master orator and knew to drive home a point. Vijayakanth had no consummate skills as a speaker, but he had a rustic simplicity and that worked with the masses.

    Haasan’s grandiloquence is painful to watch, as it has become a caricature of his own self.

    Haasan’s Part-Time Politics Is Putting Off People

    There is something forbidding about Haasan, and he has not helped his cause by prevaricating on his film commitments. In the aftermath of his party launch, he said that he was giving up his film career for good. But now he has gone 180-degree on this. He says he needs cinema to finance his party. 

    Both MGR and Vijayakanth acted in movies even after launching their respective parties. MGR used his films to burnish his political messaging even after he became first an MLC and then an MLA. Vijayakanth, even if he reduced his film outings, did continue as an actor even after he first became an MLA in 2006.  

    But they didn't get asked why they were being part-time politicians. And that may be because they did come across as proper ones. Haasan doesn't give off that vibe. At the party's anniversary meeting, Haasan said: "In India, 40 per cent of the people did not vote. Instead of questioning whether I am a full-time politician, ask them if they are not full-time citizens of India."

    This might be a good line to trot out on social media exchanges. On public platforms, such an approach alienates the public.

    Haasan also seems to think that his repeated assertions that his income tax papers are clean and is a testimony to his honesty in politics, would work with the public. His financial integrity may not be questioned, but it does seem snobbish and puts off people.

    Haasan, it is being claimed, may contest from Coimbatore Lok Sabha seat, currently held by the CPI-M. The DMK may overlook the communists' claim and offer it to the actor, who had incidentally lost the 2021 assembly elections from Coimbatore South constituency to senior BJP leader Vanathi Srinivasan.

    The issue, according to the rumour mills, is that he wants to contest with his party symbol (torch). But the DMK seems to be in favour of him going to the polls on its symbol. Haasan, it is also said, is also being offered a post-poll Rajya Sabha seat, and in return he may have to campaign for the DMK alliance bloc.

    The DMK knows it has nothing much to lose with Haasan and hence it is striking a hard stance. Even the one seat it is offering is more of a goodwill to the actor in him. The politico in him or the party has no major value.

    And that, sirs, is the true predicament of MNM after seven years. 

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