The sets are ready in a typically ‘filmi’ style for the Nadigar Sangam election in Tamil Nadu. Election to the film artistes’ body– which also represents a sizeable number of theatre artistes — is significant as the body is one of the most influential entities in Tamil Nadu, once a springboard for many aspiring politicians who later became chief ministers or top leaders of the state.
Otherwise a peaceful organisation that always stayed on the right side of the ruling party, it has been dragged into a war between senior actors after the leadership of the incumbent president, actor Sarathkumar decided to demolish the old Nadigar Sangam office in Chennai.
Sarathkumar then signed a deal with SPI Cinemas to lease out most of the prime property in the city, for 29 years and 11 months, to construct a seven-storey building housing a multiplex with one floor allotted for Nadigar Sangam besides a monthly rental of Rs. 26 lakhs. The matter was dragged to the court and some actors alleged vested interests and corruption behind it. This led to the formation of a rebel group within the artistes’ body which has had no elections for more than two decades. Sarathkumar filed a defamation suit of Rs 10 crore against Vishal for raising allegations of financial impropriety against him. Now the Madras High Court is monitoring the election on October 18, Sunday and about 2,500-2,600 members are expected to cast their votes.
Prominent faces of Team Sarathkumar comprises him (he’s also a politician), for president for a fourth term, his brother-in-law, actor Radha Ravi as general secretary and Silambarasan, a Tamil hero for the post of vice president.
Team Rebels, known as Pandavar Ani, comprises five leaders – Nasser, a fine Tamil actor for president, Vishal, 38-year old Tamil hero as general secretary, Ponvannan, Karunas and Karthi, a Tamil hero and the brother of leading actor Surya.
Who supports whom?
Team Sarathkumar looks like it’s losing its grip on the elections, with a seemingly weak team lead by Radha Ravi and Radkhika his half sister and Sarathkumar’s wife.
Many mainstream actors have now come out in support of the rebel camp including super star Kamal Hassan. Several other mainstream actors with nonconformist-left-liberal political backgrounds also declared their support for the rebel camp: Khushboo, an actor-turned-politician, and Rohini for example. Prakash Raj, a actor close to the Kamal Hassan camp and known for his political stand and statements against the beef ban is another rebel camp supporter.
Verbal spats galore
Sarathkumar’s wife Radhika, the spokesperson of her husband’s team, had called her husband’s arch rival Vishal by his caste name, Vishal Reddy. Many in the industry say this move allegedly to prove that Vishal is not a Tamilian in fact diminished her image with senior actors questioning her remarks when she herself has non-Tamil roots. Radhika’s final strategy was to invite rivals for negotiations, to avoid election, claiming that “an election would split the film fraternity”.
The rebel camp refused to accept the offer of negotiation maintaining that
election is a democratic process.
How DMK and AIADMK play a role in Nadigar Sangam?
Although Nadigar Sangam was always in favour of the ruling party, whoever it may be, yesteryear actor and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa directed actors attached to her party to not contest the election, sending a strong message of keeping a safe distance from both camps. This is likely to benefit the rebel camp as Sarathkumar, who is in the alliance of AIADMK, hoped that Jayalalithaa would favour his team.
The rebel camp also benefits from DMK sympathisers in the artistes’ body. The friendship of Vishal and M K Stalin’s son and producer-turned-actor, Udayanidhi Stalin is known to everyone in the industry.
A love story in the backdrop
In the midst of this tight fight, many in the industry are curious about the relationship of Vishal from the rebel team and Varalakshmi, Sarathkumar’s daughter from his ex-wife, Chaya. Good old friends, who are known to have a relationship for several years, however, seem to have decided not to be seen together in public until the election. Varalakshmi told The Indian Express that she would cast her vote for her father. Vishalhas clarified that his personal life had nothing to do with the election.
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