It is uncommon for the Telugu film industry to stay aloof from the political theatre. But that’s precisely what is now happening in Andhra Pradesh. It is close to two months since the YSR Congress stormed to power but no big Telugu film star or the film industry as a delegation has chosen to call on YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
This has reflected in the appointment of the Chairman of the TTD’s Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel. This week, Pruthvi Raj, a Telugu film comedian and a Tollywood lightweight was appointed to the post. The previous incumbent was well-known director K Raghavendra Rao who has a far more impressive body of work.
One reason why Tollywood has stayed away from the new regime is because the industry is dominated by one community that is deemed closer to the vote base of the Telugu Desam.
Two, very few film stars like Mohan Babu (whose actor son Manchu Vishnu is also married to Jagan’s extended family), Jeevitha, Rajasekhar, Jayasudha, Ali joined hands with the YSRCP. Though the YSRCP wanted a prominent film producer who has quite a say in the industry to contest on its ticket, it did not work out. In contrast, the TDP has always been known to mingle far more closely with film stars thanks largely to the fact that it is a party founded by the late NT Rama Rao, easily the tallest figure in Telugu cinema.
Three, the film industry which has a few powerful families controlling a large part of the business, were divided in their political loyalties this time. While NTR’s son Balakrishna sailed with the TDP, Chiranjeevi’s brother Pawan Kalyan was in the fray with his Jana Sena.
Four, the industry after bifurcation has stuck largely to Hyderabad. Even though Naidu wanted to establish Visakhapatnam as the hub of cine activity in Andhra Pradesh, the film industry that moved from Chennai (then Madras) to Hyderabad in the 1950s has been in no mood to move bag and baggage again. Most producers and actors have their business interests in and around Hyderabad. So having a pleasant working relationship with the Telangana regime is far more important to Tollywood than the politically powerful in Andhra Pradesh.
Five, Naidu used film personalities in non-movie endeavours as well and they would find it awkward to be seen so soon with his arch political rival. For example, he drafted a reluctant SS Rajamouli of `Baahubali’ fame into giving inputs into how capital city Amaravati would look like. It was a commentary on the larger-than-life grandiose dreams that Naidu sold, much like the world of `Baahubali’ constructed with cardboard, plaster of paris sets and VFX. Another film director was drafted into making a documentary on the Godavari Pushkar in 2015.
But it is not as if Jagan is without friends in Tollywood. When superstar Krishna’s wife Vijaya Nirmala passed away last month, her actor son Naresh made it a point to show to Jagan, YSR’s photograph that was at their home when the Andhra CM came to offer his condolences. Actor Sumanth of the Akkineni family is Jagan’s classmate from school. Director Mahi Raghav scored a hit with `Yatra’ that depicted YSR’s padyatra on celluloid and intends to make a movie on Jagan’s walkathon as well.
It may be pertinent to point out YSR’s position vis-a-vis the political draw of an actor. He had told me in an interview in 2009 that people flock to listen to an actor because instead of watching him on the big screen, they can see and hear him/her up close in flesh and blood. “It is nothing but entertainment for them. When it is time for voting for their future, they take an informed decision,” YSR had said.