With Twitter for a Balachander, is Kamal Haasan preparing for a political blockbuster?

opinion | Friday, September 15th, 2017
T S Sudhir
Highlights

Dravid, because he is technically sound in his replies and plays with a straight bat. Srikanth because like the former Indian opener would walk in between deliveries to square leg with a nonchalance bordering on irreverence, Kamal can go off on a tangent bringing in Mahatma Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill together into his answer and just when you are trying to make sense, surprise you by hitting the question out of the park. 

When I met him, he was still tentative about Twitter. His first few tweets were akin to a ``Mike Testing, Hello, 1, 2, 3'' - tentative baby steps trying to make sure he doesn't falter and fall on his face in the slippery and often ugly world of social media. But I felt his `Raghavan instinct' told him that Twitter could be his biggest canvas ever.

In the last 20-odd months, Kamal has been most un-Pushpak on Twitter. Most of his 393 tweets so far have made a sharp point, a majority of them since January 2017 on the political turmoil in Tamil Nadu. The Ulaganayagan knows that with a following of 2.14 million, he is able to connect to a vast majority through his Twitter ki Baat. Not surprising he has been dismissed as a Twitter warrior by the AIADMK leaders, who have been the target of his criticism off late. He may personally want to modify that to `Twitter Nayakan'.

The role that Kamal is playing on Twitter is that of Tamil Nadu's conscience keeper. Given the fear factor that is a constant in the state - the fear of defamation cases, the fear of sedition cases, the fear of Goondas Act - Kamal is giving voice to what the common Tamilian on the street feels. 

Take for instance his tweet on Friday. He asked in two tweets, why should there be two yardsticks - one for MLAs and another for striking teachers.

"The honourable court warns teachers on strike. I beseech the court to issue similar warnings to those MLAs who desist from attending work. No work, no pay only for Govt employees? How about horse trading politicians languishing in resorts?"

It is this role of seeking accountability from the elected representatives that has cast Kamal in his role as a watchdog of sorts. Someone who has the credibility, the honesty quotient and the daring to ask uncomfortable questions. 

But the question that everyone is asking is whether this will translate into an electoral plunge. More so because in Tamil Nadu, Kollywood's top talent has hit the jackpot in political campus placements in the past. In an interview to Deccan Chronicle, Kamal has said he will start a political party but given that his friend Rajinikanth too dropped several hints before seeming to chicken out, no one is willing to bet that the Dasavatharam hero will indeed don a 11th political avatar. 

The more important question is whether there is political space for someone like Kamal to occupy. Political vacuum is a seductive phrase that has lured many a filmstar in India but then you also need to find the right fit to fill the vacuum. No doubt, as a credible articulate face, Kamal's voice will carry weight but unfortunately that is not the way politics is practised in India. The idea of converting fan clubs into a political party is too simplistic a way of practising electoral politics if that is the path Kamal wants to pursue. 

Also while his open and defiant criticism of the corrupt political culture will win him brownie points and more admirers, sooner than later the question on what will he do different, will be asked. Kamal will be expected to lay out an alternate and realistic political path that takes into account that India is no Utopia. It is fine to say his ideology matches with no political party but people need to know what Kamal's ideology is.

Does Kamal know the route he wants to take? I have my doubts. Does he have a GPS? So far, there is no hint to that effect. 

Unlike his movies that most often he scripts himself, here he does not have the script in hand for his political role. He is merely reacting to events as they happen, engaging with people, perhaps trying to understand Tamil Nadu better through their responses. Twitter is his K Balachander, preparing him for a role he does not know if it is all black or all white or more than 140 shades of grey. All he knows is that the character is not saffron. 

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