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Will Thalapathy Vijay Take A Plunge Into Politics?

November 07, 2023 10:39 IST
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At the Leo fete, Vijay had this to tell his fans: 'I know you all are in my heart. But today, I also know that I am also in the hearts of all of you...'
A typical politician's line, did you say, chuckles N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Thalapathy Vijay at the Leo success meeting. Photograph: Kind courtesy Thalapathy Vijay/Instagram

For a Tamil film actor supposedly intent on entering direct electoral politics not far away from now, Vijay has stayed away from socio-political dialogues and one-liners in Leo, his latest offering.

Neither the storyline, nor the dialogues, had even a remote link to politics, unlike in the 2018 blockbuster aptly titled Sarkar.

In that movie, the very theme revolved around poll reforms and was packaged in a way that would appeal to his fans, especially those who wanted him to enter politics.

Instead, Leo is a gangster movie, where the middle-aged family man Parthibhan or Parthi is a criminal in his past avatar.

He has run away from a thriving drug business and is living in remote Theog in distant Himachal Pradesh, far away from native Telangana, hiding his identity even from dear wife Sathya (Trisha Krishnan), till the end and beyond, all of it negative characteristics for a future politician, though on the silver-screen.

At least that is not how the Tamil film-goer and voter has seen their matinee-idols-turned-political leaders, from MGR to Sivaji Ganesan, Vijaykanth to Rajinikanth, not to leave out lesser-known players like Seeman.

As indicated, even Vijay's pre-Leo releases in recent years have had one-liners and dialogues that carried a hidden political message or two -- or, pep-lines that would cheer his huge fan-following, especially in native Tamil Nadu, to hope for his entering electoral politics early on.

What more, our hero Parthi/Leo has run away from native Telangana to remote Theog in distant Himachal Pradesh, an unlikely yet apt hideout, not because he wants to turn a new leaf.

Instead, he quits, fearing for his life after foster father (Sanjay Dutt) and the latter's brother (Arjun Sarja) shoot sister Elisa (Madona Sebastian) when they fail in the former's ritualistic act of giving her in 'human sacrifice', as has been the practice before transacting and/or transporting huge drug-loads.

Talking about human sacrifice in this 21st century India?

Ask film-maker Lokesh Kanagaraj, and that is one point he has not talked about while studiously promoting the film, post-release, through media interactions, YouTube interview and social media posts.

But human sacrifice is one thing that the film has not used to depict an otherwise overdose of violence.

In the normal course, it should have put off film-goers, but the box-office tells you otherwise.

That may be because it does not dwell as much on what is a crude return back to the stone-age, where Tamil society and cinema definitely do not belong.

It is equally true of the larger Indian society.

It only has limited recall value, yet if it became the centre of a political discourse, now or later, it's Vijay, not Lokesh K, would have some unconvincing explaining to do.

Where there seems to be a conscious shift away from mainline formula movies of the kind, it is in that all antagonists, including Leo, if you could call him so, belonging to Christianity.

In his clean avatar, Leo takes a Hindu name, Parthibhan, and a Hindu wife and raises a Hindu family with two young children.

Nowhere does religion make any appearance whatsoever in the movie -- there is not even a temple or puja room scene in the picture -- but there may be a hidden message for the faceless Hindutva critics of Vijay Joseph, who have been periodically railing him on the social media for the Christian identity that he sports at times on the title-card -- and nowhere else.

If he goes on a frequent pilgrimage to the Velankanni church in southern coastal Tamil Nadu, he has kept it a private affair -- but that does not seem to be enough for peripheral Hindutva groups, out to malign him.

If at all Vijay enters politics, his media biographers cannot miss claiming it to be among the reasons: 'Pushed to the wall, blah, blah, blah...' kind of narration that you can expect under the circumstances.

IMAGE: Vijay in Sarkar.

It is here that state BJP chief K Annamalai is at variance with peripheral Hindutva activists and groups.

Obviously referring to Vijay's brief and informal speech at the massive Leo success /victory celebrations', he said new faces should enter politics in the state and help re-write Tamil Nadu's future course (away from the entrenched Dravidian mindset?).

So has actor-politician Seeman, leader of the Naam Tamizhar Katchi, from the other end of the political spectrum. He has qualified his invitation to Vijay to join politics with some cautious and not-his-usual caustic comments for the rest.

The ruling DMK has not reacted, but the AIADMK seems to be piqued.

It's not in what he said but in the body language of former minister D Jayakumar, who reiterated that in a democracy anyone can enter politics and form a political party, but only those with the people's support can succeed.

Of course, as party spokesperson, he was only responding to queries from media-persons, some of whom seem obsessed with the idea of Vijay entering politics -- for its own sake, unconnected to Annamalai's kind of 'fresh blood' theories.

What Vijay said at the Leo fete was enough for his fans, and is already under the media scanner as used to be the case with every uttering of Rajinikanth, both on-screen and off-screen, through three decades.

It had continued until Rajini announced his retirement from politics even without entering it ahead of the 2021 assembly polls, citing his health.

What remains from Vijay's speech is his declaration is that there is 'only one superstar and there is only one thalapathy', or commander.

The reference, of course, was to Rajinikanth and himself, and was putting an end to an avoidable controversy, purportedly flagged by the superstar himself at the audio launch of his hugely successful Jailer earlier this year.

Before Vijay too took to it, Rajini, in his trade-mark kutti kathai, or parable, told the story of a crow that thought it was as powerful as an eagle, but soon found out that it could not sustain the momentum even if it flew higher and higher.

The other one was flying even higher, effortlessly, until the crow fell down faster and steeper than the climb.

IMAGE: Rajinikanth in a scene from Jailer.

Vijay's fans were upset as never before. They have been fighting a periodic and relentless social media battle with fans of Thala Ajith (the term means 'leader') whenever their releases clashed or the other's scored bigger.

Of late, especially after a series of Rajini movies failed at the box-office, Vijay fans had elevated their man to be the 'next superstar'.

After a time, they called him the 'only superstar'. Rajini's loyal fans, mostly in middle age and above, were hurt.

They began posting that there was only one 'superstar' just as the lyric in one of Rajini's most successful films read: 'Or, oru Baashha than...' ('There is only one Baashha' from the film by the same name, 1995).

Rajini needed a big box-office hit, and Jailer was it. And to pep up his fans, the parable came in handy.

Vijay's fans were even more upset when the police denied permission for the Leo audio-launch pending the finalisation of an SOP for events of the kind, where thousands thronged.

That was after the disastrous open-air concert by maestro A R Rahman a few weeks earlier -- all owing to over-crowding in a ticketed programme.

The ruling DMK and youthful minister Udhayanidhi Stalin with his very successful distribution agency, 'Red Giant Movies' had to take the blame, as the social media posts told the Vijay fans that Leo was being targeted as the firm did not get the distributing rights -- and worse...

As Vijay fans recall, for years now, his films have been facing release-eve hiccups, especially from the government of the day.

As if fearing his entry into politics more than that of Rajini years ago, then AIADMK supremo and chief minister Jayalalithaa, herself a matinee idol of great success in her hey day, put spokes in the wheels when it came to extra shows on the opening days of Vijay movies and denying his fans permission to celebrate his birthday in a big way or some such thing.

Thus, they too in a way believed what mischievous social media posts said about the denial of permission for Leo audio release.

For them, it was an occasion for Thalapathy -- by now they had toned down their rhetoric -- to respond, nay retort, to Rajini's parable.

IMAGE: Vijay at the Leo success party. Photograph: Thalapathy Vijay/Instagram

In his Leo victory speech, Vijay did not stop with the declaration that there is 'only one superstar and only one thalapathy'... just as there is only one 'Puratchi Thalaivar' ('Revolutionary Leader', MGR), 'Nadigar Thilagam' (Greatest Actor, Sivaji Ganesan), 'Ulaganayagan' (Global Hero, Kamalahassan) and so on.

Vijay too had a parable to share with his fans. He compared two hunters, one who returned home with a rabbit as he aimed only for it, and another that was empty-handed after targeting an elephant.

He asked his fans, 'Who is the greater hunter of the two?', and answered it himself, 'To me, it is the hunter that aimed big who comes first.'

Whatever he meant, Vijay's fans at the celebrations venue understood it all... Or, their rapturous response said they understood it all and even more.

That was also because outside of the venue, social media posts and YouTube interviews by some veteran Tamil film critics of the yore was still trying to put down Leo's box-office success more than hailing Jailer as a bigger hit, next only to the superstar's all-time record-breaking Enthiran, or Robot (2010).

Vijay has a huge fan-following, possibly the biggest among contemporary Tamil stars.

After experimenting with successive flops of run-of-the-mill films and an occasional experimental story which alone clicked, he moved away from the all-embracing shadow of film-maker father S A Chandrasekhar (of Andhaa Kaanoon fame, 1983), to chart a new course.

Then came his big-budget formula movies, and there has been no going back for Vijay.

The interesting part of it all is that Vijay won over his fans only in this phase of stardom nearly two decades after he was sort of a laze-around in the industry that forgets actors that fail to live up.

Even more interesting -- and enviable -- is the fact that he might be the only Tamil actor with such a huge fan-following among women after MGR.

Girls from 15 to 40 are his fans and they are also voters, either now or three years hence.

Another untold success story of Vijay the actor is that he is a huge hit in Kerala for the past two decades without break.

Through his transition, on occasions, his films might have flopped or had a moderate run in native Tamil Nadu, but would be running to packed houses all across Kerala.

Now over the past years of pan-India films, Vijay is well-acknowledged in Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka, too, in terms of relative box-office returns -- of course, not in terms of performance.

After all, he is not in the race for an Oscars and he knows it better than anyone else.

Yes, Vijay is not 'saleable' as yet in Bollywood and all across the Hindi film land. It may never happen, either. But that is a different story.

At the Leo fete, Vijay had this also to tell his fans: 'I know you all are in my heart. But today, I also know that I am also in the hearts of all of you...'

A typical politician's line, did you say?

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst & political commentator.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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