In the 1996 Tamil hit Indian, Kamal Haasan played the role of a pension-earning freedom fighter, who turns an anti-corruption crusader. His transformation into an executioner of the corrupt begins after losing his daughter to the apathy of a corrupt doctor and ends with him killing his own son, who has become a corrupt brake inspector. The movie, dubbed as Hindustani for the northern markets, ends with the 70-year-old calling in from a foreign land and promising to return whenever he sees corruption rise its head.
The 63-year-old Haasan, born Parthasarathy — the youngest child in a family of lawyers — is no stranger to the limelight, having revelled in it from the tender age of five. But, he was a late starter on Twitter. Beginning reluctantly in early 2016, the tweets were pithy and sometimes cryptic, but few and far between. Sometime after the passing of ailing chief minister J Jayalalithaa in December and during the Jallikattu agitation, the tweets turned sharper, more political and critical even as the game of musical chairs began unfolding in Tamil Nadu. At times, the cryptic tweets became a butt of memes for confusing people, but his appeal to the younger urban population as a clear thinking public-good minded person, who can articulate himself clearly in English and Tamil, is undeniable.
Though Haasan’s Twitter activism was initially brushed aside as a publicity stunt to promote the reality show he hosts, his ambition seems to have swelled beyond being the small screen Big Boss. The painful episode during the 2013 release of his film Viswaroopam, when the Sasikala family made life difficult for him and broke him financially, is a distant memory. Today, he minces no words; openly goes after the chief minister and his colleagues, calling them corrupt, inept and puppets and daring them to quit. Angry responses by AIADMK partymen and ministers have only added fuel to the supporters egging him on social media and otherwise. The excitement around his upcoming release has put on hold the entry of his alter ego, Rajinikanth, who was seen heading towards the Bharatiya Janata Party, which sees the chaos as its best chance to spread roots in the state.
Though social media has become a potent tool in any political discourse, electoral politics needs much more. Having been active in the cinema field for over five decades (three of them being one half of a virtual duopoly), Haasan has a network of fan clubs, which could be a good starting point, say political pundits. The actor, who calls himself a rationalist and a follower of social justice principles of Periyaar, might find himself out of place in saffron politics. The DMK would have been an ideological fit, but it would be asking for too much to ask the perennial prince-in-waiting to bequeath the throne. The Congress and communists have no leg to stand in the state, having piggy-backed one Dravidian party or the other for decades now.
Which is why last week’s meeting with Aam Aadmi party leader Arvind Kejriwal has become significant. In an interview to India Today channel late on Thursday, Haasan said he was ready to join politics and become the chief minister. He said politicians have slowly, without realising it, pulled down the state to a weak, pathetic level. “I’m going to be meeting people, step by step, and give them a clear road map,” he said.
Two decades on, the crusading taatha (grandfather) from Indian seems to be heading home. Explaining his tendency to be unpredictable, Haasan told Anupam Kher in a recent Republic TV show that, “Some take alcohol. Some take cocaine. I take risks.” Haasan is a risk the people of Tamil Nadu might not mind taking, given all the farce they have witnessed in the past few months.