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September 10, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Murali

'I am here to redefine election as a cultural exercise and stop it from being a political stunt'

Film stars in Kerala have seldom dabbled in politics unlike their peers in the other South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Politics there has always been confined to professional politicians. But the Communist Party of India-Marxist has changed the rules by fielding popular film star Murali from the Alappuzha Lok Sabha constituency.

The CPI-M has had its own compulsions in fielding him. The party is plagued by intense factionalism in Alappuzha district. Expelled dissidents have joined the Communist Party of India and this has marred relations between the two coalition partners.

In this context the CPI-M had great difficulty finding someone suitable who could carry all the cadres along and also have a broad appeal among the electorate. Murali, a well-known actor with Leftist leanings, fitted the bill.

Murali's first film was Njattadi in 1979 directed by Gopi. Six years later, he became famous after his scintillating performance in three films -- G Arvindan's Chidambaram, Hariharan's Panchagni and Lenin Rajendran's Meenamasathile Sooryan, all of which were notable because of their absorbing themes.

He has acted in over 130 films and has won awards for movies like Amaram, Adharam, Kanakinavu and Thalolam.

Murali takes on V M Sudheeran, a seasoned Congress politician and former assembly speaker, who has never been defeated in any of the eight elections he has contested. It is a tough fight, "but I feel thrilled and satisfied when people eagerly listen to me whenever I speak. The only political skill I have today is oratory, it seems," Murali tells George Iype in an exclusive interview.

What made you take the plunge into electoral politics?

It is not the charm of politics that makes me contest this election. In fact, if the kind of politics that we see around us is any indication, there is no charm in politics now-a-days. But during my two-decade career in films, I have always yearned to do some kind of social work. In that sense, politics is the ideal medium.

Who kindled in you the idea to contest the election and that too on a CPI-M ticket?

The idea to contest the election is my own. But I have been nurturing this idea in my mind and debating it with my film colleagues for the past five years. However, I was certain about one thing: that if I would ever contest an election, it would always be on a CPI-M ticket because I have always been a Left-supporter ideologically and practically. In 1988 I was offered a Lok Sabha seat to contest. But I refused it at that time because I thought the time was not ripe for me to jump into politics.

When did your love for Communism begin?

From my school days in fact, when I was a student leader. Before I entered films, I was a leading Left union leader of the Kerala University employees. Though my active participation in Leftist politics stopped after I started acting, the spirit and ideology of the Left always remained in me.

How did you retain the spirit of Communism during your film career?

Mainly through reading but also through acting. I love literature and I read a lot on culture, art and philosophy. And some of the roles I have done in films are those of Communist leaders. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed my role in Rakthasakshikal zindabad (Salute the Martyrs). So I thought, if I can portray brilliant Communist characters in films, why can't I be an able politician in real life and serve society?

But isn't acting in films entirely different from becoming a politician by choice?

Yes. I agree that acting in films has no relation to the practical problems in politics. I am today a political novice. But that does not mean I am incapable of doing social service. I am confident that I can do better than many of our leading politicians in the country.

My forte today is my screen image. Through this screen image I have always conveyed a powerful message to the people in one way or the other. That is why wherever I go and whenever I speak people are eager to hear me. Murali the actor is now Murali the social activist.

Will you continue acting in films if you get elected to the Lok Sabha?

Why not? I will be acting in films, but not very frequently. If people love me and my films, why can't a Member of Parliament act in films?

But you are taking on a veteran Congress politician who has never been defeated in any election. Aren't you worried that V M Sudheeran has an edge in Alappuzha?

I don't want to question the popularity of Sudheeran. He is a brilliant leader. But the problem is that he is in the wrong party. Moreover, he has not done any earthshaking developmental activities in Alappuzha as a MP. So I am sure the people will reject the Congress and Sudheeran and vote for me.

Have you been getting active support from the film world in your campaigning?

Yes, I am proud that I am getting extensive support from prominent personalities in art, literature and culture. Some of them have formed a cultural body called Open Forum to campaign actively for me across the constituency. To my friends and the voters of Alappuzha campaigning for me has suddenly taken on a creative dimension. I am here to redefine election as a cultural exercise and stop it from being a political stunt.

But some of the Open Forum members have clarified that they have no affiliations with the CPI-M and the Left Democratic Front.

All my friends in the fields of culture and cinema are not Communists. But they are willing to campaign for me because we sink ideological differences in the celluloid world.

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