By Ananya S. Guha
In India politicians are both icons and villains. It depends on where the god-head is placed or misplaced. People criticise them and laud them, according to whims, fancies, and crass personal gains. If they happen to be in close proximity to them, they flagrantly boast about it. The very people who speak eloquently on corruption do not have the slightest qualm in asking them for favour, alms or employment. It is an accepted thing. It is also an accepted thing to call them venal, dishonest, and totally corrupt. Of course, the honest ones remain disembodied figures, like characters in a fairy tale, sung but almost with condescension. No one remembers a Promode Charaborty these days, who lived and died in his party office. Nor does one remember Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Nor Nripen Chakraborty. If politicians are austere, honest, and committed, then it is almost a travesty of the truth. Corruption and dishonesty are yardsticks on which our political systems work and are measured. So when a politician dies, then there are the usual monosyllabic comments: “A Great Leader” or “We will miss him/her.” There are longer eulogies, which very few people read. And very few are able to overcome their political differences and see the man as he were. Perhaps, Jyoti Basu’s case was an exception. But some are not forgotten (or even forgiven) after death, the greatest leveller.
The icons of Indian industries are film makers and actors, followed, of course, close on the heels by the cricketers. They even switch roles. The latter takes up acting and reality shows, and the former play cricket on chosen days. Theirs is a shared world. They act together, play the comedian together, and generally sometimes make me not laugh, but weep, when they are together. Then you have the occasional riposte between actors and politicians. Sometimes friendly, sometimes not so. But they hit it off well generally. You hear our Prime Minister praising Aamir Khan, or both of them posing coyly for a photo. Then you know that the film world and the political world are at perfect tandem. We have our politicians. But not people like Lal Bahadur Shastri. Not even Gandhi now. Slowly he is losing his charisma. See how they make fun of him on mobiles, because of those two thousand rupee notes. And Subhas Chandra Bose, they have not exactly forgotten him, but archaeologically trying to discover his bones. Did he actually die in the crash, or did he live for two more minutes, or even ten minutes? Historians are blushing. His relatives are cantankerous and the government is unearthing files and files. But he is not much of a hero. He is and was simply a Bengali recalcitrant, who was opposed to the politics of femininity and crafty bourgeois machinations.
Now this is a pretty long background. Against this backdrop, we can see how the politico actor survived with aplomb in South India. Acting was and is a passion there. And most of the politicians act and very well at that. The image of the actor blended very well with the politician. Both were hero worshipped in two contexts: in life and on celluloid. And, the two images shuttled to and from, from real to reel and vice versa. So much so that one could not distinguish between the real and the reel. The real became reel and the reel real. But to make the reel real, you had to enter the halcyon world of politics. Of course, to continue acting would be so much the easier. NTR, MGR did this with felicity. Now with the passing away of Jayalalitha, we are waiting with a bated breath for a one more typical replacement. RIP.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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