Book Review: M. Madhava Prasad, Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India

Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
M. Madhava Prasad, Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India. New Delhi: Orient
BlackSwan. 2014. 224 pages. `690.
Politics in India draws its extraordinary energy from periodic elections. While this is bemoaned by
many as leading to ‘populism’ and the rule of the ‘mob’, elections have also been seen as providing an
opportunity for ‘political society’ (read people without property and secure employment) to make its
presence felt. The south Indian phenomenon of film star-turned-political leader perfectly fits into this
grey area of ‘catachrestic politics’, to extend one of the rich formulations of Laclau in understanding
populist reason.
Madhava Prasad’s Cine-Politics is a recent addition to the scant literature addressing the fascinating
phenomenon of film stars turning into political leaders in south India. I call it scant in recognition of
the scale and cultural density that this phenomenon relates to both in terms of demography and multi-
tudinous socio-historical folds. It is not only in view of the paucity of scholarship that Prasad’s book is
a welcome addition but, primarily, also for its speculative thrust.
Prasad departs from the commonsensical or conventional thinking that cinema and politics are differ-
ent sites of social action. He clarifies that the phenomenon in question is not the investment of charisma
earned through cinema in politics or using cinema for political propaganda. In conjoining both, as cine-
politics with a hyphen, he understands it as a historical phenomenon responding to a set of conditions set
forth by historical processes of transformation. From the side of political history, the still unrealized
federal nature of the Indian nation provides the ground for sovereign aspirations of linguistic communi-
ties. Since each linguistic state in south India fostered its own film industry, cinema corresponded to
the ‘imaginary’ of the political subjectivity rooted in language. This provided the ground for the cine-
political event of the folklore hero of the film narratives, enabling the actors who donned such roles to
become political leaders.
Prasad adds another historical dimension to this. He notes that Indian cinema since its inception in
colonial times, through colonial markers of difference, was meant to take the subaltern ‘illiterate’ masses
as addressee. In making devotional films for them a la pioneers like Phalke, Indian cinema bestowed the
character of bhakta or devotee to them, which historical legacy extended to the actors donning the roles
of folklore heroes. The genesis of the ‘fan’, though marked as abhimani or rasiga in modern phraseo-
logy, has in its semantic origin, the element of bhakta or devotee. Prasad argues that when this stardom
willed by the devotee-like fans does not get invested in politics, it becomes convertible as commercial
propositions, as in the case of Rajnikanth, adding in passing that it is ‘a triumph of profit over rent’ which
the media celebrates.
In different chapters of the book, Prasad gives detailed historical accounts of M.G. Ramachandran
(MGR), the exemplar of the phenomenon from Tamil Nadu; N.T. Rama Rao, who followed suit in
Andhra Pradesh as a great political success; and Rajkumar in Karnataka, who failed to make the possible
transition to politics at the right moment. He further examines the case of Rajnikanth in some detail.
Studies in Indian Politics
3(2) 290–298
© 2015 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023015601749

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT