Politics of stardom: S India's NTR, MGR phenomenon


Veeraraghav T M,CNN-IBN
Aug 26, 2008 at 10:02pm IST

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Chennai: It took N T Rama Rao just nine months to turn himself from an onscreen mythological hero to the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He laucnhed the Telugu Desam Party in March 1982 and by January 1983 he was chief minister.

Telugu Pride and the quest for an alternative to the Congress became NTR's political platform.

Political analyst, T Ramchandriah says, "Audiences saw him as a demi-god as he essayed roles of Gods in his mythological films. Also at that time there was political space for a big leader. So both these factors worked together to ensure his sweeping success to power."

However, a decade before NTR scripted success in Andhra politics , in neighboring Tamil Nadu, a star had emerged as the undisputed leader - M G Ramachandran, more popularly known as MGR.

MGR, unlike his Telugu colleague started off with the Congress and then entered the Dravidian movement way back in the 1950's, but a rivalry with Karunanidhi meant he would be expelled from the party in 1972.

A former minister in MGR's cabinet, Panrotti Ramachandran says, "In 1972 ,Karunanidhi expelled MGR and that resulted in a massive feeling that a hero who fights for the poor has been betrayed by a politician and that's a feeling which lasted till the very end."

The onscreen hero who fought for the poor took his screen image to real life politics - an image that helped him remain chief minister till he died in 1987.

Their political paths were different but MGR and NTR share one common criticism - they were both larger than the party they started and were often considered autocratic, a criticism that they share with most actors who turn to politics including MGR's co-star and political successor, J Jayalalithaa.

Panrotti Ramachandran says, "You see when a star enters politics, he derives his power from the people and once he has derived his power then the party organsiation comes in to execute the power."

Despite all their critics, together NTR and MGR leave behind a legacy that's beyond the parties they started, a legacy that makes politics virtually a retirement plan for most south Indian superheros.

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