Actor Vijay is testing the waters regarding his political career by having his fans contest the local body elections in nine districts. In the past, Vijay’s fans had contested local body elections and even won on occasion but only as Independents. Now, however, they are presenting themselves as Vijay fans and formal representatives of the fans associations.
Vijay’s appeal goes beyond fans. In his early films, Vijay played the role of the romantic hero, leading to a fan following among young women especially college students. As he changed tack and played mass hero roles, a la Rajinikanth, his fan following grew to include a broader section of the youth. More importantly, Vijay’s fan base has equal rural and urban components – a rare feat in the state where fan followings don’t cross rural-urban divides.
Vijay’s hopes rest on recent political history of Tamil Nadu that has been bi-polar with the DMK and the AIADMK as the two poles. Moreover, over several decades, cinema has significantly influenced politics. Today, the DMK is in power and the AIADMK has no charismatic leader at its helm to hold the fort when it is not in power. Vijay joins the BJP, PMK and Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi in seeking to strike roots in the space that has apparently opened up.
The key to Vijay’s ambitions rests on his fan base. While Rajini has some 50,000 fans associations, Vijay’s network is claimed to cover some 78,000 associations. Fans of actor Ajith – the fans of the two actors often cross swords on social media – contend that Vijay’s fans associations amount to some 58,000, not more.
Even if we go by the more conservative estimate of Ajith fans, 58,000 fans associations of at least 25 fans each is a sizeable base for a political entry.
Even if we go by the more conservative estimate of Ajith fans, 58,000 fans associations of at least 25 fans each – the minimum number is mandated by Vijay fans association norms – is sizeable base for a political entry. In sheer numbers, 20 lakh devoted fans who would, on paper, do what a leader tells them can move politics. The Vijay fans association Facebook page alone has 7.8 lakh followers. As a further testimony to Vijay’s pull, Kollywood grapevine asserts that Vijay is among the most saleable stars, and therefore bankable for producers.
Vijay’s move is similar to what actor Vijayakanth did in 2005 when he fielded his fans as candidates in local body polls. In the Assembly elections next year, he clocked nearly 8% of the votes, emerging as a fresh, promising political actor.
Film fan bases have proved at least once to be a sureshot springboard to political power in Tamil Nadu. A week after his fans lamented that they were being sidelined in the DMK in October 1972, MGR set the ball rolling by publicly challenging Karunanidhi and charging him with corruption. But MGR’s success has not been duplicated. His successor, Jayalalithaa, relied on MGR’s film-political base than hers to launch herself politically. Kamal Haasan remains in the margins and Rajinikanth could never dare to take the plunge. Yet, MGR’s success remains an aspirational goal for many film stars.
Vijay has been dabbling with politics for more than 10 years. In 2009, when thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan defense forces in their march towards victory over the LTTE, he wholeheartedly participated in protests by the cinema fraternity. Vijay’s credentials were boosted by his wife – she is a Tamil migrant from Sri Lanka.
An increasingly political Vijay changed his title to Commander (Thalapathy), from Young Commander (Ilaya Thalapathy).
But Vijay’s meeting with Rahul Gandhi in 2011 sent confusing signals. The Congress was seen as complicit in the killings since the then UPA government did not move strongly to end the war. Vijay did not join the Congress and his fans associations supported the AIADMK in 2011.
Soon after Jayalalithaa came to power, Vijay released a movie, Thalaiva, whose tagline was “Time to lead”. At that time, Vijay had trouble releasing the movie that openly sought the mantle of leadership for himself. In “Kathi”, Vijay skewered 2G corruption, apparently targeting the DMK. The actor’s next, “Mersal”, took on GST, among a range of hot button issues, leading to criticism from BJP supporters who hit below the belt by calling out his full name, “Joseph Vijay”. They were indicating that the actor’s antipathy towards the BJP was motivated by his religion. An increasingly political Vijay changed his title to Commander (Thalapathy), from Young Commander (Ilaya Thalapathy). The latter gave pride of place to Rajinikanth, as the original Commander, indicating Vijay’s realm would come in the future. Not anymore. Vijay seems to think the time may have come now.