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Film and Politics in India

Cinematic Charisma as a Gateway to Political Power


Dhamu Pongiyannan

In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, all five of the Chief Ministers since 1967 have been former actors. This provocative book debunks the notion of Bollywood as the synecdoche of Indian cinema to explore the hitherto less studied, yet highly influential cinema in South Asia. Developing the concept of the politics of sentiment, the author examines the ways in which actor-politicians constructed their cinematic charisma, projecting themselves as messiahs saving the people from injustices, to create a political appeal to voters. The resilience of cinematic charisma, as Indian society undergoes massive socio-economic changes, provides a compelling study of modern politics, cinema, celebrity and the culture of the subcontinent.
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What do popular film stars and successful political leaders have in common? It is the contention of this book, the latest in the Peter Lang series on Film Cultures, that both these phenomena can be understood sociologically in terms of Weber’s theory of charisma. In the context of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, however, the two have a special connection. Over the last forty years, all the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, as well as a number of other key political figures, have been successful and popular actors. The ordinary Tamil speaking people who make up the mass audience of Tamil cinemas have so admired their favourite actors that they have voted them into office as their political leaders. And actors, for their part, have used their film roles to groom themselves in the eyes of the audience for their subsequent political careers.

As readers we are introduced to five examples of such actor-politicians through an account of their dual careers in cinema and politics, as portrayed in contemporary Tamil media, as well as subsequent studies and biographies. Linked to each is an in-depth analysis of one of the actor’s most memorable films, which can be seen to reflect the person’s political ambitions and qualities as a film star. In the juxtaposition of these two descriptions, the actors’ on-screen portrayal of compassion and concern for the poor, so important for capturing the imagination and voting support of the mass of poor cinema viewers, is...

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