Tamil Nadu loves its leaders unlike any other states

What makes the people of Tamil Nadu to �die� for their leaders? Is there any social and political factor playing behind this phenomenon?

Tamil Nadu loves its leaders unlike any other states

In Tamil Nadu, the act of devotion towards film stars and political leaders has always been a matter of wonder. The last few weeks, more precisely the hours after the demise of Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalaithaa, have shown the enormous appetite of Tamilians for mindless devotion. After the news of Jayalalithaa’s deteriorating health on Monday evening, three persons have died apparently due to shock and two cases of suicide attempts were also reported in the state.


What makes the people of Tamil Nadu to “die” for their leaders? Are there social and political factors behind this phenomenon?

One of the possible explanations of this strange affection is movie mania. Film stars have always been treated as demigods in the state of Tamil Nadu by the common mass. The roles played by the stars, mostly in favour of common people, helped the lower class communities to admire the actors in a region where dominant class held strong control. Every new release by the Tamil superstars, especially stars like Rajinikanth, has always witnessed festivities in the state, with admirers bathing posters of stars in milk.

The most celebrated politicians in Tamil Nadu history, M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) and Jayalalithaa, were stars on silver screen before joining politics. And, the Dravidian movement in the southern state has played a significant role in bringing the fanatical devotion existed in cinema world to politics. Several socio-cultural studies have noted the influence of Dravidian politics, which used cinema as a medium for social presence, behind the political stardom.

Dravidian Progress Federation, or DMK, was successful in combining its propaganda in the form of popular action entertainments. With the association of MGR, DMK was successful in using his charisma to spread their message among the people. Bringing the movie magic with him into politics, MGR was constructing a new style of political worship in the history of Tamil Nadu.

“That cinema is used as a transparent medium to transmit messages and thereby win the hearts of spectators,” writes M Madhava Prasad, author of
Cine Politics — Film Stars and Political existence in South India.


MGR also used his screen popularity in social works as well, which included financing the poor, running orphanages and participating in disaster relief. MGR's movies portrayed him as a friend of the poor and downtrodden, scholars have noted.

When Jayalaithaa took over the party after MGR’s death, who was able to import the film persona almost directly to politics, she was successful in turning her stardom to more of a divine role.

‘‘To live down the image of an actress is very important, because an actress is by definition a public woman, a loose woman,’’ The New York time once quoted the social historian V. Geetha saying. ‘‘She had to desexualize herself,” she added saying that Jayalaithaa later stopped wearing jewelry, paving way for her ‘devotees’ to call her 'Amma'.

The iron lady of Tamil Nadu, Jayalaithaa, is no more now, leaving the prayers of  tens of thousands in vain. The display of affection witnessed during the past weeks was not an act of sycophancy. That was indeed the affection that was created by the a movie star and strengthened by a leader.