Can Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan Convert Popularity into Votes?

Kavitha Muralidharan

Even Rajinikanth’s entry onto Tamil movie screens, in 1975, was larger than life. Confidently pushing open a gate and striding into the frame in Apoorva Raagangal, the swag that would define his career was unmistakable even beneath the ill-fitting suit and scruffy exterior (his character had returned to apologise to his estranged wife Bhairavi (Srividya) after being diagnosed with blood cancer). And the first person he speaks to? Kamal Haasan’s Prasanna, an ebullient young man hopelessly in love with Bhairavi.  

By the time Rajnikanth made his debut, Kamal Haasan had already been working in films for more than a decade. But Rajini only got his first lead role in K Balachander’s cult classic, which brought together two powerful actors who would dominate the Tamil film industry for the next few decades. It was only fitting that many years later, both would formally announce their political ambitions at almost the same time. 

Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in 'Apoorva Raagangal'.

While this may seem like a coincidence, it was the absence of the biggest Dravidian leaders in Tamil Nadu that had set the stage for uncertainty and political churn by then—AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa had died in 2016, and DMK chief M Karunanidhi, her bitter rival who had been suffering from various illnesses for a couple of years, succumbed in 2018.

While both Rajini and Kamal’s entry into politics sent fans into a frenzy, as the general elections draw nearer, the state seems to be settling back into the familiar pattern of alliances and partnerships. Adding to this, both stars have announced that they won’t be contesting the election themselves—while Rajinikanth, whose political party is still an amorphous entity that doesn’t even have a name yet, made this clear last month, Kamal Haasan, whose Makkal Needhi Maiam is contesting all 39 seats in the state, broke the suspense on Sunday while releasing the party’s ambitious manifesto which promises 50 lakh jobs.

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