Chapter 6
The Political Cutout: Celebrity and Cult in Tamil Nadu

The political cutout was a highly effective instrument of propaganda that remade as deities, the film star leaders of political parties. Such portraits parasitically fed off the glamorous charisma of the star image as well as the spiritual aura of the religious icon. The identity of the star persona coalesced with the political persona to produce an image of supreme authority.

To gain insight on this process the author examines points of intersection in theories on charismatic leadership and traditional Indian concepts of kingship. Melding these concepts to theories about media celebrities, particularly film stars, the author analyzes the strategies of Tamil Nadu’s political leaders in obfuscating boundaries between politics and screenplay to acquire a divine authority.

The argument in this chapter is developed through a close study of the rise to power of Jayalalitha Jayaram, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu state and a highly controversial yet powerful force in Indian politics. Cutout images of this leader, created for campaigns to gain political office and those created during her first tenure as chief minister, depict a trajectory in her charismatic status from that of a popular film celebrity to royalty to an omnipotent goddess of the Hindu pantheon.



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