Chapter 5
The Coalescence of Tamil Nationalism and the Cinema Industry

Each of the five chief ministers leading Tamil Nadu’s government since the late 1960s emerged on the political scene from celebrity status acquired within the state’s vibrant entertainment film industry—from careers as screen stars, or as screenwriters and directors. The author shows, that unlike the political rise of film stars in the West, these powerful figures slipped back and forth across the porous boundary between a cinema tinged with Tamil nationalist themes, music and imagery, and the populist “public theatre” that is Tamil Nadu’s electoral politics.

Prior to detailing this process of the charismatic construction of political leaders in Tamil Nadu, as manifest in their cutout portraits, it is necessary to survey the modern political history of Tamil Nadu, specifically that of the Dravidian movement. This revolutionary, regional political movement marked a singular turning point in the political history of Tamil Nadu and was decisive in the formation of a contemporary regional cultural identity.

The roots of the Dravidian movement, that dates to the early twentieth century, is entwined with the advent of modernity, the politics of the British colonial government and the Indian independence movement. Since the mid twentieth century the Dravidian movement has come to dominate electoral politics in Tamil Nadu. In this chapter the author acquaints readers with this unusual political history and analyzes the success of the Dravidian movement by focusing on its leaders’ manipulation of cinema for political purposes.


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