Film icons bring star power to India’s monumental election

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.


This article has been posted by a News Hour Correspondent. For queries, please contact through [email protected]
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