Veteran actor Kamal Haasan brings star power to India's monumental election

Veteran actor Kamal Haasan brings star power to India's monumental election

The path from celebrity to politics is well-trodden in India and Haasan is one of many stars on the hustings.
04 Apr, 2019

On a humid evening in India's south, drummers and dancers heave to Kamal Haasan's blockbuster hits, whipping a huge crowd into ecstasy just as the moustachioed megastar himself steps onto the stage.

There is a red carpet, confetti and coloured lights rippling over the sea of jiving fans screaming Haasan's name, but this is no concert — it's an Indian political rally worthy of a superstar.

The path from celebrity to politics is well-trodden in India and Haasan — an icon of Tamil Nadu cinema, or “Kollywood” — is one of many stars on the hustings ahead of the national election starting next week.

Thousands of candidates are contesting the election — the biggest in history, with 900 million eligible voters — but not all have the X-factor of Haasan and other stars on the campaign trail.

The 64-year-old launched a political party in 2018 to much fanfare and excitement in Tamil Nadu, where he is a household name after decades as a leading man on the silver screen.

His rallies more closely resemble movie sets from his career than the boilerplate campaign functions hosted by India's political hopefuls. In Coimbatore city, musicians and dancers in riotous colour performed energetic dance numbers from Haasan's films as fans packed the rally ground for a glimpse of the star.

In the crowd, fans cradled framed images of the film icon brought from home, and wore scarves imprinted with his face, as they sang and danced along to his classics. The man himself is not even contesting the election, but is fielding 40 candidates to vie for seats for his party in the national parliament, far away in New Delhi.

But there is no mistaking who is the force behind the party, his face beaming down from rallies, posters and giant screens.

“All the candidates are my faces, and I will be the chariot puller,” he thundered at a recent rally in Coimbatore, assuring the crowd where their votes were going.

'He sounds more believable'

Parties of all persuasion seek celebrity endorsement come election time, particularly exploiting the country's devotion to film and cricket. With millions of voters and a dizzying array of candidates and parties, allying with a hugely-recognisable face works wonders, said Rasheed Kidwai, who has written a book about Bollywood's role in politics.

“A prominent face that is already recognised by the masses obviously helps because of the massive size of our parliamentary constituencies,” he told AFP.

“Their onscreen image also helps in creating a better connection with the masses.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fielding Hema Malini and Kirron Kher in this election, both Bollywood veterans and leading lights of the Indian film industry.

Smriti Irani, a massive television star, was appointed a cabinet minister in Modi's government after the BJP stormed to power in the last election.

Gautam Gambhir, who was part of India's 2011 World Cup winning side, joined the BJP in March, following in the footsteps of countless cricketers turning star power into political capital after retiring.

Modi's chief opponents in Congress also court big names, with film star Urmila Matondkar recently throwing her weight behind Rahul Gandhi's party and fellow actors Raj Babbar and Shatrughan Sinha already on board.

Vaasanthi, an author on celebrities and politics, said many actors found the reality of campaigning and governing more taxing than anticipated.

“The parties want to use their glamour but it is not like standing in front of the camera and acting,” the Delhi-based writer, who goes by one name, told AFP.

Some of Haasan's opponents have suggested he lacks political acumen, a jibe that rings a bit hollow in Tamil Nadu, a state governed by one celebrity leader or another for the better part of 50 years.

“The opposition is asking, 'Who is this guy? He is just an actor'. Yes, I am an actor, everyone knows that. An honest actor,” Haasan told a crowd to cheers recently.

Among his die-hard supporters, Haasan can do little wrong.

“I have been a fan for years,” said Abhirami, a housewife sitting with her young daughter in the front row of the Coimbatore rally.

“There is a lack of good leadership in Tamil Nadu. Now that he has joined politics, I am here to support him. He sounds more believable and honest that most politicians. “


Saffron Apr 04, 2019 01:50pm
He could be a fluke but actually nobody takes him seriously
Amit Kumar Nagpal Apr 04, 2019 01:50pm
He is a non-starter
DK PAMNANI Apr 04, 2019 02:02pm
Let Kamal Hassan try himself in politics and will face rejection.
Chaman Bahar3 Apr 04, 2019 02:06pm
He is not even fighting current Parliamentary election
Bangalore Apr 04, 2019 02:12pm
He is Nothing in Politics and Everything in Acting
Kumar(Varanasi) Apr 04, 2019 02:20pm
In Tamil Nadu, you could easily spot the winners from losers among it's Screen superstars. Mega star Kamal Hasan is a non starter in Politics like another extremely popular Mega star Sivaji Ganeshan. Where as Rajnikant like late M G Ramchandran has that undefinable aura which makes them instant hit in politics. But even Rajnikant has already missed that bus because of his dithering and failing to take the plunge when the opportunity was ripe as well as his stars were at it's zenith.
Mike Apr 04, 2019 02:26pm
He just wants to keep himself visible
Ravi Apr 04, 2019 02:33pm
He is nowhere in the election. Has lot of black money. Wants to spend it before someone catches him.
Jehengir khan Apr 04, 2019 02:58pm
He will win bigly....
Roopesh Apr 04, 2019 03:15pm
No one cares about Mr. Hassan and he has little influence over the people. His presence is not going to make any difference in the electoral process of India.
A M Apr 04, 2019 03:28pm
He needs publicity because his movies are rejected. People learnt now how 3rd grade actor he is .
Ghulam Kherati Apr 04, 2019 05:45pm
The world is a theatre and we are all actors. Let him lead as he is the star of the show.
BRR Apr 04, 2019 07:22pm
Frankly this Hasan has NO political following, very little political clout, and is struggling, which this report / writer completely fails to even mention.
Shahid Farookh Apr 05, 2019 02:56am
If Mr Kamal Hasan was so interested in public service why did he pursue a career in films. Once films are not working out he conveniently changes his hobby to politics.
Abbas Syed Apr 05, 2019 04:39am
Although artists and actors have the right to participate like everyone else, in my opinion, it is a waste of their talents that have given them celebrity status.
Issak Apr 05, 2019 07:01am
That's what democracy is all about... everyone has the right to contest in the elections win or lose .. Donald Trump is a business man yet he won the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth....and there are those who take power by force destroying their countries as long as they remain in office..
SG Apr 05, 2019 08:46am
@Chaman Bahar3 He is not running because he announced he will select only college graduates to run on behalf of his party. He is 7th class fail. I am not joking. That is the truth.
Nitin Apr 05, 2019 05:30pm
don't worry, he has not credibility in India now a days