“Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyaar ke kaabil mujhe, dil ki ye dhadkan thehar jaa, mil gayi manzil mujhe”
Pawan Kalyan was humming this song when we met him on the election campaign in Andhra Pradesh. A Hindi song is unusual, points out one of his Tollywood producer friends (name withheld as he requested not to be identified) who is helping him with his election campaign in Bhimavaram. This constituency in West Godavari district is one of the two seats, Pawan is contesting from, the other being Gajuwaka in Visakhapatnam.
“He loves to sing but he usually hums Telugu folk songs, which have culturally rich lyrics,” he says.
On the road, Pawan Kalyan with his unruly mop of hair and bearded avatar looks anything but a star. Or Powerstar, as he is popularly referred to by his fans.
“His skin is tanned, he is just not taking care of himself. He does not even comb his hair,” says the producer, a trifle worried about the dishevelled look and shedding of the star image.
A typical Pawan Kalyan day on the election campaign usually starts before it ends.
“I am sometimes so tired that I cannot sleep,” he says. His aides say irrespective of what time in the late night he calls it a day, he is up at 3:30 am. That is when they say, he gets his `Me time’, to write his speeches, pen his thoughts and ideate. Unlike politicians who in order to brave the heat and dust of elections, ensure they never get on to the field without having a heavy breakfast, Pawan his team says, survives only on bananas, dry fruits and very rarely, a curd rice lunch.
Pawan has always styled himself differently from the usual film star. Used to embracing a rural way of life and farming, he has ensured space for half a dozen cows and calves at the party office in Mangalagiri in Guntur district. The colourful muggus (rangoli) around the place and his sartorial preference for the dhoti-kurta complete the countryside setting.
“I do not like the world of films. I never felt comfortable,” says Pawan. “It was a pain to act. Here I feel natural, I am myself.”
That would surprise many of his ardent fans who swear by his screen image. In fact, just this week, Geetha Arts, the production house owned by his brother Chiranjeevi’s brother-in-law Allu Aravind tweeted a clip from Pawan’s superhit `Jalsa’ on the occasion of the movie completing eleven years. The scene showed Pawan agitated about the inequalities in society. The attempt clearly was to show that Pawan the politician is an extension of Pawan the actor.
Former chief secretary of Tamil Nadu, Rammohana Rao, who joined the Jana Sena earlier this year says the gamechanger will be the commitment level of the party cadre.
“No one can buy this cadre, it is better than in established parties,” says Rao. “And Pawan’s energy levels are tremendous. I have been a TDP student leader in Ongole during the NTR days. Pawan, I would say, is a combination of NTR, MGR and our beloved leader, Amma. But where he is different is that MGR and NTR came to politics after their cinema career was almost over. But here Pawan is in the midst of a booming movie career. He is deeply committed to public causes.”
As the Andhra and Telangana election campaign winds into its final week, Pawan knows it is time to go for broke. BSP chief Mayawati has come visiting and he has been addressing public meetings with her across Andhra Pradesh and in Hyderabad. Pawan endorsed her name for the post of PM while Mayawati said Pawan will be the CM if their alliance came to power in Andhra Pradesh.
The BSP and Pawan go back a long way. A decade ago, upon learning what a big draw he was among the people and his political inclinations, the party had asked Pawan to head the united Andhra Pradesh unit and offered to project him as the chief ministerial face in the 2009 elections. Pawan declined because that was the time his elder brother Chiranjeevi had plunged into politics and aspired to be CM himself.
This election, Jana Sena strategy team feels the party is facing the BSP syndrome. A tendency by pollsters to underestimate the support for Jana Sena.
“It is beyond the community vote,” says Rammohana Rao. “Girls, boys, older women, they are all coming to support our President. It will be much bigger than the numbers being projected for Jana Sena. It is a silent wave.”
A lot of water has flown down the Godavari since 2014 when a newly launched Jana Sena decided not to contest the elections. Instead Pawan campaigned extensively for Chandrababu Naidu and Narendra Modi, helping them come to power. But though the BJP wanted him to join the party, he declined. That is because post-2014, the relation with the ruling party in Delhi only went downhill.
The actor-politician’s revelations about what subsequently went wrong with the BJP are telling.
“After 2014, the body language of the BJP leaders had completely changed when I met them. The work they had with me, was over. Now I was no longer useful,” says Pawan.
The Jana Sena rank and file feel 2019 will be Pawan’s moment. Though opinion polls have shown their strength lies essentially in three districts of Visakhapatnam, West and East Godavari, the hope is that Pawan Kalyan could end up becoming the HD Kumaraswamy of Andhra Pradesh in the event of a hung assembly. But Pawan believes his political start-up is destined for greater glory.
“The other two parties will have to think who will support me,” he says when asked who will he back – the TDP or the YSR Congress.
On the campaign trail, the crowd goes into a frenzy at every gesture, every mannerism, every line of Pawan. Team Pawan discloses this is precisely why he has 150 men guarding him.
“He does not like them being called `bouncers’. They are mostly volunteers to guard him,” points out one of his aides.
One thing that Pawan likes to stay connected with in his political avatar is a glass of tea, ensuring it is seen with him in every photograph that is clicked and TV interview that is recorded. For those assuming that Pawan is getting Modi-fied again, the only political angle to the chai is that the glass is the Jana Sena party symbol.