‘The Second Kalam’. The late former president’s self-effacing temperament would have found the title a bit too immodest but that is what Madurai and Rameswaram are screaming at the moment. The occasion is the ‘Lights, Camera, Action’ moment for Kamal Haasan, the politician.
Trust Kamal, always a tad different with his acting style, story treatment and choice of music, to introduce a script variant in Tamil Nadu’s political theatre. For long, the walls of cities, towns and villages in the state have been used for the beaming faces of Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi, Stalin and in recent months, Panneerselvam, Palaniswami and Dhinakaran. Making a debut of sorts in this space is APJ Abdul Kalam. In film parlance, this February release may well have been titled ‘Kalam’, starring Kamal. Coming to a meeting venue near you in Madurai.
Before he announces his political party and articulates its ideology, Kamal will head east to Rameswaram, the birthplace of the former President of India. This is also where Kalam was laid to rest. What connects Kalam and Kamal is that the actor grew up in neighbouring Paramkudi in Ramanathapuram district while Kalam did his schooling in Ramanathapuram town. Apart from the similar-sounding names, Kamal Haasan wants to convey that his ideas for the nation and Tamil Nadu are from Kalam’s school of thought. The posters brag that the dreams and aspirations of Kalam will be fulfilled by Kamal. His supporters expect Kamal to come up with a Kalamism, when he addresses the gathering on Wednesday evening.
Abdul Kalam used to love interacting with young minds and in fact, his unfortunate demise in 2015 occurred when he was addressing students at IIM, Shillong. Borrowing a leaf from Kalam’s book, Kamal plans to visit the government school where the scientist studied. That has, however, run into rough weather with Hindu Munnani, a right-wing outfit objecting to politicians and actors using a school as a platform to propagate their opinions.
Kalam’s grand nephew, Sheikh Salim, who handles the APJ Abdul Kalam International Foundation in Rameswaram and is a National Council member of the BJP, says he has no objections to the Kalam posters that have sprouted around town. Kamal had got in touch with Kalam’s family in January to inform them that he wanted to start his political journey from the former president’s residence in Rameswaram.
“I also met Kamal Haasan in Chennai where he spoke about having dreams for Tamil Nadu like Dr Kalam had for India. He said he had once travelled with Dr Kalam on a flight and interacted with him at length. So just like he motivated lakhs of youngsters, if Kamal Haasan wants to be inspired as well, we have no issues,” says Salim.
What the posters that speak of Kalam and Kamal in the same breath do, is to kindle an initial interest in Kamal, the neta. But not everyone is happy with the effort by Team Kamal to make him wear the mask of a Kalam, a Kalam-ification of Kamal Haasan as it were. Retired bureaucrat MG Devasahayam feels it is an attempt to milk Kalam’s stature as a youth icon simply because Kamal has no other person to fall upon.
“This is only to gain limited traction, temporary publicity. But while he was known as the people’s president, I wonder how much of an appeal he will have. Even among the minorities, the Kalam card would not sell because he was not a textbook Muslim,” says Devasahayam.
The posters also seem to suggest the arrival of a man, bursting with ideas, who would transform Tamil Nadu, messiah-like. Film critic L Ravichander, however, believes that the basic grammar of making a sub-aerial entry into politics is erratic.
“The Kamal-Kalam comparison shows a lack of understanding of Indian politics because Kalam was not a politician in public life. He held a decorative office with dignity,” says Ravichander.
If you needed proof of what could possibly happen with the entry of film actors into Tamil Nadu politics, here it is. Inspired by Kamal Haasan’s attempt to appropriate the Kalam legacy, filmmaker Elangovan has got into the act. He will start work on his debut film, which is the story of a young man who aspires to be a film director, in March. In the movie, the director’s character wants actor Rajinikanth to play the role of Abdul Kalam. So while Kamal is using the Kalam name in south Tamil Nadu, Chennai is full of posters of Rajinikanth as Kalam.
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