June 20, 2021
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The gossip from the hills where AIADMK chief Jayalalitha is holidaying is that amma is busy meeting potential winners from her party and has even decided who will be in her cabinet

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Chennai Corner

Amma Dreams, Karunanidhi Worries

The gossip from the hills where AIADMK chief Jayalalitha is holidaying is that amma is busy meeting potential winners from her party and has even decided who will be in her cabinet. Obviously, her mood has not been dampened by an election survey last week giving the DMK the winning edge. Jayalalitha who uses her stays in Kodanadu to retreat from the world has a different agenda this time. She is preparing for her third stint as CM, so her doors are open to brainstorm with party-men and leaders. The buzz is also that she has been in touch with “friendly” officers to get the dirt on the Karunanidhi clan. An example of her vengeful nature was there for all to see when she got Karunanidhi arrested at midnight soon after she came back as CM for the second time. Also an example of her impulsive nature is apparent now although the 2009 Lok Sabha elections should have taught her not to count her chickens before they are hatched.

Interestingly, even Karunanidhi appears not to be upbeat after that particular survey came out. Even on May 2, he was attacking the EC, a constant refrain pre and post-election. The octogenarian is much more preoccupied with what will happen to daughter Kanimozhi who has been named by the CBI in its second chargesheet on the 2G scam. The CM, at 87, was believed to be mulling accompanying Kanimozhi for her court appearance in Delhi on May 6, when her bail plea was deferred by a day. But he’s been persuaded to stay back because of his health. Instead all the party MPs will be giving her moral support in the court room not to mention husband, Aravindan, son Aditya and mother, Rajathi ammal. Coming back as CM for the sixth time seems less important when there’s Kanimozhi to be worried about. As an aside, Raja was totally abandoned by the DMK when he was arrested and even now in Tihar jail, he’s a lone ranger and not by choice!

A Raw Nerve?

“It’s all jealousy and heartburn,” pronounced Karunanidhi in a letter to party members this week about the all-round criticism (and particularly in response to an article in a Tamil magazine) about his clan’s involvement in Kollywood. “I don’t understand why a few industry people envy the growth of my kith and kin in this profession,” he complained while saying that he had been active in the film industry for a long time writing screenplays and dialogues for more than 75 films since 1945.

“When family members of AVM, Sivaji Ganesan, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Sivakumar and R.P. Choudary have all encouraged the entry of their children into the film industry, why should my sons and grandchildren not join the business?” To put it mildly, all the above worthies were only into films, acquired a standing in Kollywood and then encouraged their sons and daughters to follow them. Unlike Karunanidhi who straddled politics and cinema — and now his children and grandchildren are in both professions. Besides, Rajnikanth, etc were all superstars earning big money which made it possible for them to cushion their children’s entry. With all due respect, Karunanidhi was not a star in Kollywood and therefore the money he earned from it is not a patch on what a Rajnikanth earns. And yet, his grandchildren like Udyanaidhi Stalin who is in his 30s and Dayanidhi Azhagiri who is in his 20s have enough money to underwrite big budget films! Also, there are Tamil writers who will say that if Karunanidhi had not been the CM five times since 1969 (and, by definition, had tremendous clout) his writings would not have been hyped up like they are now. The fact that none of the films he has scripted in recent years have turned into a blockbuster speaks for itself.

Incidentally, grandson Dayanidhi Azhagiri has been sent a legal notice by the Hindu Munnani over certain scenes in Vaanam (which he has produced) which has just been released. The pro-Hindu outfit took out a procession this week objecting to two scenes in the film. One shows a scuffle between Hindus and Muslims during a Ganapati procession which leads to a pregnant Muslim girl miscarrying. “The other scene shows a character resembling Muthalik (who became notorious after young girls were attacked in a Mangalore pub a couple of years ago) forcing a couple to marry,” says Elango, general secretary of the Chennai branch of the Hindu Munnani. Well, the Hindu Munnani needs to be in the news and who better to target than Dayanidhi Azhagiri to get them into the newspapers?

Reel or Real Life?

CM Karunanidhi has spent the last five years fending off the charge that he was so in love with all the charm that Kollywood could lay out (the number of felicitations, music launches and functions that he presided over are innumerable) that he chose it over governing the state. It is true that his regime was marked with allocating land for artists from the film industry and much of the money he earned from his script writing was given back to indigent artists. Recently during the music launch of Ponnar Shankar that he scripted, he said that among the sops he gave Kollywood was that he had waived entertainment tax (for movies with a Tamil title) and lowered the fee for film shooting.

His regime was also marked by two of his grandsons – Udayanidhi Stalin and Dayanidhi Azhagiri – jumping into the film industry as producers. Yet another grandson Arulnidhi became an actor while a grand-nephew Gunanithi became a producer. And let’s not forget grand-nephews Kalanithi Maran, head honcho of Sun Network, which produced the costliest film (over Rs 150 crores) ever made in India, Endhiran starring Rajnikanth.

What was always rumoured was that the first family had monopolized the movie business. “They (referring to Jayalalitha’s constant criticism) speak as if I am sending my kin to monopolise the film world. Is it fair?” Karunanidhi asked at the music launch of Ponnar Shankar. The entire filmdom is like his family, he said. Incidentally, the criticism against him is also that his family (two sons, Stalin and Azhagiri; daughter Kanimozhi and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran) have taken over politics. The joke is that Annadurai (his mentor) considered the kazhagam (party) as his family while Karunanidhi considers his family as the kazhagam!

Kollywood Voted Against Monopoly?

This perception that there is a monopoly is going to reflect adversely in the ballot box, some say. “Every person has requested at least 10 family members to vote for the AIADMK to save Kollywood from the DMK family,” a cameraman is quoted as having said. He added, “I am a follower of Thanthai Periyar and have never voted for any other party except the DMK in my life. But now I am forced to vote for the AIADMK though I loathe that party,” His comment ties in with the convention here that people vote out a government not vote in a government. Kollywood’s foot soldiers reside in areas like Kodambakkam, Vadapalani, T Nagar, Virugambakkam and Valasaravakkam.

Why are they so angry? The main reason is that several film producers, who make low budget feature films, are jobless because they don’t have the resources that homegrown producers of the Karunanidhi family have. Actor Vijay too had to seek the support of Jayalalitha when his film Kaavalan ran into trouble because of Udayanidhi Stalin’s clout. Of the 1,300 cinema halls in the state, the family is said to control a majority. Which is why a film like Ponnar Shankar, a historical film scripted by Karunanidhi, opened in 14 theatres alone in Chennai. Karunanidhi’s claim that subsequently this film is “struggling” to find theatres has more to do with the film. For instance, this film, whose actors are certainly B-list, is not likely to attract mass audiences. But contrary to what the CM says, such is the clout of the family that it gets such a big opening. As a result there are less theatres for other producers and therefore they have stopped making films. According to the CM though, this has more to do with movie theatres being converted to marriage halls, hotels and storehouses. But the CM forgets that each of the multiplexes and malls in Chennai have about seven theatres each.

An insider also says, “Five years ago, our minimum shooting days in a year was over 250. Now, it is less than 100 days.”

Congress Making Nice with the CM

Karunanidhi has been getting visits from Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan and union minister G K Vasan. It’s no secret that they came calling soon after the CM virtually went ballistic after daughter Kanimozhi was named in the CBI’s chargesheet. He was so angry that left to himself, he would have jettisoned the Congress, but was held back by his sons and the party. The visits by Congress leaders came in this context and also because of the good news (despite his professed cynicism) that a survey predicted for Karunanidhi. It said that the DMK-Congress combine will get 115-130 seats as opposed to AIADMK which will only get105 to 120 seats. If that is the case, then Congress needs to shimmy up to the DMK because no one is predicting that it will do well and that it overreached itself in demanding and getting 63 seats from the DMK.

A Marriage Made in the Counting Centre

There’s one person who will personally benefit if AIADMK chief Jayalalitha’s alliance wins. And that’s former AIADMK Kumbakonam MLA P Ramanathan. And that’s because only if he wins can he fulfil his vow to get married.

Ramanathan, was the toast of Jayalalitha’s first regime in 1991 because of his kudumi (the tuft that Brahmins keep), his kadukkan (ear-rings on both ear lobes), his bindi and angavastram (shawl) not to mention his youthful energy, . But Ramanathan lost the subsequent three elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006. In 2001, when he was almost 37, he took a vow that he would get married only if he won from Kumbakonam. But his opponent was too strong to beat even in 2001 when this state brought back Jayalalitha as the CM.

In 1991, Ramanathan defeated Janata Dal’s S Kumaraswamy by a margin of 31,309 votes. In the next three elections he contested against DMK stalwart Ko Si Mani and lost. He is confident of defeating his DMK rival – who is K Anbazhagan, a debutant – this time. He plays down his celibacy vow now but says, “Making amma CM is now more important than getting married.” He goes onto say, “However, the vow still holds good. I am now confident that I shall fulfil my vow after the results.” Any takers for this 47-year-old if he wins? Or will he regret not marrying when he first became an MLA because, as he said, he "was not in the mood.”

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