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Business News/ Lok Sabha Elections / Lok Sabha Elections 2019/  A high-profile political battle splits Kannada film industry
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A high-profile political battle splits Kannada film industry

‘Sandalwood’ is split into two blocks—one led by Sumalatha and the other by Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy
  • Kumaraswamy and popular actors Darshan Thoogudeepa and Yash—who are backing Sumalatha—have trained guns at each other in Mandya
  • Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil (left) is pitted against actor-politician Sumalatha AmarnathPremium
    Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil (left) is pitted against actor-politician Sumalatha Amarnath

    Bengaluru: The political drama in Karnataka is nothing short of a fast-paced entertainer, with the lines between “neta" and “abhineta" blurring at a blistering speed.

    Reel action stars have found themselves at the receiving end of the not-so-fictitious attacks from their political rivals, dividing the Kannada movie industry, or ‘Sandalwood’, into two blocks—one led by actor-turned-politician Sumalatha Amarnath (Sumalatha Ambareesh) and the other by Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who is also a film producer.

    Sumalatha, wife of late Congress leader and yesteryear Kannada actor Ambareesh (M.H. Amarnath), has filed her nomination as an independent candidate against Kumaraswamy’s actor son Nikhil Kumaraswamy.

    Unlike neighbouring Tamil Nadu, or erstwhile unified Andhra Pradesh, the movie industry in Karnataka had maintained a safe distance from politics. However, it is now finding itself in the middle of a slugfest in the run-up to the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

    “Where were they when 200 farmers committed suicide?" Kumaraswamy asked, lashing out at his rival’s campaign, questioning the actor’s involvement in the sugarcane growing district. Kumaraswamy and popular actors Darshan Thoogudeepa and Yash—who are backing Sumalatha—have trained guns at each other in the farmer heartland of Mandya, about 100km from Bengaluru.

    The old Mysuru region, considered the biggest market for Kannada cinema, is also witnessing a fight between the actors, raising speculation among film and political observers that the two actors could be eyeing to fill in the vacuum left by Ambareesh.

    Actors, globally, have used their star status in the film industry to launch their political careers, with many going on to lead their respective national and state governments. While the trend in India is not very different, it couldn’t be more pronounced than it is in the southern part of the country, especially in Tamil Nadu and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh.

    Sumalatha not only denies any such divide, but also does not even acknowledge that Kumaraswamy is part of the film industry. Her opponent, Nikhil, says he has the support of leading actors, but does not want them to get involved in politics.

    The strong ties within the industry have often been tested to its limits with politics often playing the spoiler—like in Karnataka. From vicious barbs to complaints before the film chamber, the fight is likely to get more intense in the coming days.

    “This is likely to continue till the elections," said a Congress leader and Kannada film producer, requesting not to be named. Though movie stars in Karnataka have campaigned for certain political parties during elections, only a handful have taken the plunge into electoral politics—not for a lack of opportunity, but for its caste proclivity.

    “Dr Rajkumar did not enter politics because he did not belong to a so-called dominant caste," M.K. Raghavendra, a Bengaluru-based film scholar and social commentator, said.

    Observers also said that those associated with the movie industry in Tamil Nadu came out of political movements like the pro-Dravidian and anti-Brahminical movement, unlike in Karnataka, which is caste dominated.

    Ambareesh, a Vokkaliga, was perhaps one of the most successful politicians and cinema stars. Though many may not have agreed with the ways of the late actor, known as a ‘rebel star’, his stardom and fan following seems to be intact even after his death, and is likely to benefit his wife, who has become a refuge for disgruntled workers of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also decided to back her candidature. This is likely to make Nikhil’s electoral debut that much harder.

    National award-winning Kannada film actress and BJP leader, Anuradha, known by her stage name ‘Thara’, believes that there are no differences within the industry. “Out of politics all artists are friends," she said. But the show is now moving from cinema halls onto the political stage, where the action is expected to be far more intense.

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    Published: 04 Apr 2019, 10:33 PM IST
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