The recent war of words between the two Titans of Tollywood, Chiranjeevi and Nandamuri Balakrishna has brought some light relief to the sensation starved masses. These two stars are huge draws at the box office and have filled the coffers of many a producer. Though there might have been some rivalry between them when both of them were competing, it was never overt. Both of them comported themselves with dignity and decorum and were often cited as examples for more unruly stars. These giants of the silver screen have not had a single scandal attached to them and that is saying something in these days where even a one-film wonder will have ten scandals behind him. These two have more than 250 films between them and not to have a single scandal tells us of their sincerity to their craft. The less charitable might say that they might have been much better at ‘hiding’ than the rest and they might even be right, for there have been a few whispers against one of them.
If it was just a fight for silver screen supremacy, no one would have bothered. But this war of words has political undertones and tempers are rising. What started as mild political posturing has now turned a little ugly with personal remarks and film dialogues thrown in. While this spectacle might provide some amusement to the masses the long term consequences will not be great as it will mask the real issues that need to be debated. Dr. Ramesh Grandhi, a popular guest blogger on Subho's Jejune Diet, explores the phenomenon.
I am no political pundit, but it does seem that these two are jostling for primacy in the coming elections. They are without any doubt the primary vote catchers of their respective parties and both the TDP and Congress will rely on them to a great extent to attract the masses.
With Junior NTR at odds with the TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu and his father Harikrishna openly sulking, it stands to reason that Naidu would turn to Balakrishna for providing the glamour quotient to his party. The TDP has taken several knocks in the recent past and needs all the help it can get.
Chiranjeevi’s foray into politics wasn’t a very pleasant one. His hopes of emulating the incomparable NTR turned to dust and his plans for political stardom went awry in a big way. He ended up with a paltry number of seats but managed to garner more than 17% of the popular vote—no mean achievement that! YSR’s death and his son Jagan’s subsequent revolt from the Congress suddenly improved Chiranjeevi’s political stock with the Congress bosses bending over backwards to curry favor with him. The TDP though has good reason to be upset with him, as several analyses have shown that without Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam in the fray they would have perhaps won the last election.
Balakrishna of late has been making several statements to the press about his willingness to serve his party in ‘any’ capacity. His philanthropic activities at the Cancer Institute have also been widely covered in the press. Does this indicate that he is preparing the groundwork for a plunge, and if so what better way to do it than attack the Congress’ new found golden boy. His potshots at Chiranjeevi will have the added benefit of attracting wide publicity with all the leading dailies and 24-Hr News Channels blaring nothing else but this war of words.
Chiranjeevi has not been in politics for more than half a decade but has attracted his fair share of negative publicity. A comment that he had desired a huge amount of money to join the BSP hurt his chances even before campaigning had started. Then there were allegations of seat selling that further sullied his reputation, nothing was proven, but in politics if you throw mud enough times something will stick. We also know that there is no smoke without a fire.
His ‘noble’ attempt to see that seat distribution was done in a socially fair manner was laudable, even though it failed miserably in fetching political dividends. YSR and Naidu were far too canny and had offered too many goodies to too many sections of people that his social experiment failed to take off. What is remarkable about Chiranjeevi is despite the increasing number of allegations of backroom deals being stuck for his support to the Congress, he has succeeded in maintaining his reputation for probity to a certain extent. He should however realize that the masses are beginning to suspect that his white kurta is turning gray. If he has ambitions to rule this state and it is apparent he does, he needs to take care that his public image doesn’t take any more beating.
If we were to gaze into the crystal ball for their political fortunes, the picture would be so shrouded in mist that any forecast would be quite difficult. Both of them are huge crowd pullers, and belonging to the castes they do, they have every reason to hope for a good result when the state goes to polls.
Balakrishna has the TDP behind him and his Kamma caste background will help him quite a bit. The Kamma’s dominate industry, films, and some of the biggest newspapers are owned by them. His statement that he is willing to stand from any constituency in the state shows his confidence, which might well be proven true as the masses might indeed vote for him. His being the star son of the late and lamented NTR will not hurt his chances any! The one issue where he falters is that he is no orator like his father, elder brother, or even junior NTR. He stutters and stumbles and his speeches are not impressive in sharp contrast to junior NTR who has managed to inherit not only his grandfather’s looks but also his famed oratorical skills. Balakrisna is justly famous for his dialogue delivery in films so it is surprising that his public speaking skills are mediocre.
Chiranjeevi comes from a BC background, and his Balija caste numerically is perhaps the most populous in the state, which will help him quite a bit. The backward castes form the bulk of the electorate and if he succeeds in mobilizing them behind him he should have a smooth ride, but this task is easier said than done. His first attempt at doing this failed, but his backers explained this away due to the lack of organizational structure. The BC’s while having the numbers are politically not as active as the Reddy’s or the Kamma’s and Chiranjeevi will have to take this into his calculations. Financially too the Reddy’s and Kamma’s are dominant, another factor that harms his chances. Currently, he is the flavor of the month and he might yet become a Central minister, but is he ready for the rough and tumble of Congress style politics, where infighting is the order of the day? This needs to be seen. He might be a better orator than Balakrishna, but only by a slender margin.
When it comes to their charisma and vote catching skills they are evenly matched. Both of them have had glorious film careers with perhaps the Megastar winning over the YuvaRatna at the box office. Politics, however, is a whole different ballgame and seeing their statements it is clear that bugles are being blown. It would do them credit if they make sure they don’t make a habit of ‘hitting below the belt’ but I would think that it will be impossible for them to do so. Sound bite hungry channels and newspapers will play one against the other, and we will hear a lot more comments about Bala, Kantichoopu, and thousands of crores of corruption.
Politics is indeed the theater of the absurd, so should we relax and wait for this entertainment, popcorn in hand? Not with bated breath, but with a wry smile on our rueful faces-what else can a simple voter do