Actor Vijay enters politics

Star appeal: Vijay is set to take a decisive step into politics. — The Straits Times/ANN

Tamil movie superstar Vijay is set to take a decisive step into Tamil Nadu politics, launching a new party – which he announced on Feb 2 – that would be called Tamilaga Vetri Kazhagam (Tamil Victory Party).

He said in a statement: “You are all aware of the current political climate. There is administrative malpractice and corruption on one hand, and divisive politics that strives to divide people on the basis of caste and religion, on the other hand.

“Tamil Nadu is yearning for a political change that can lead to a selfless, transparent, caste-free, visionary and corruption-free administration.”

In January, the general council of his fan club, the Vijay Makkal Iyakkam (Vijay People’s Movement), unanimously elected the actor as the new party’s president, while his long-time aide and former Congress legislator Bussy Anand of Puducherry union territory was named the general secretary.

Although India is expected to hold national elections before May 2024 with the current Parliament scheduled to end in June, Vijay may skip this contest. Instead, he and his party will run in the next Tamil Nadu state election in 2026.

Born Joseph Vijay Chandrasekhar, but known to his fans as Vijay, or Thalapathy (commander), the soft-spoken 49-year-old actor is known for his dancing chops and films for the masses.

He often plays urbane heroes who use high kicks and colloquial Tamil to protect women from sleazy baddies and students from corrupt businessmen – all the while never losing his cool.

His dance moves, a signature blend of the energetic Tamil street “koothu” style, breakdance and hip-hop, which he performs with hundreds of extras in at least two songs in every film, have been widely recreated at weddings and dance contests.

He is immensely popular across Tamil Nadu, his smiling face gracing many a poster and two-storey-high cutout.

Tamil Nadu has a history of huge film personalities entering politics. The longest-reigning chief ministers in the state were two actors, M.G.Ramachandran and J.Jayalalithaa, and the screenwriter M.Karunanidhi.

They launched their political careers through their on-screen image, rousing monologues and off-screen philanthropy.

Vijay is no different. He is now making a film, which many fans believe will be his last, although he has not confirmed this.

The avowedly secular actor will enter Tamil Nadu politics at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to make inroads in the fiercely regional state, after the deaths of political bigwigs and arch-rivals Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, who took turns ruling for decades.

Over his 68 films, said film critic Sreedhar Pillai, Vijay has “gone from light romcoms to making socially relevant films, which gave him a huge following in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala”.

His fans largely tend to be underprivileged, unemployed young people whose aspirations and frustrations about jobs, love and corruption the actor has depicted in entertaining blockbusters.

His fan club has more than 200,000 members in district and neighbourhood chapters. Mostly under 40 and male, they fill cinemas to ensure his films are a hit, style themselves like him, and may even troll critics who question the logic of some of his movie plots.

Today, few reviewers analyse Vijay films beyond their mass appeal.

In Sarkar, Vijay’s most overtly political film from 2018, the character learns that his vote has been cast by someone else, and confronts two corrupt politicians from different parties.

“After I watched Sarkar, I could imagine Thalapathy as a politician,” said Kalaiarasan S., 35, a fan from Madurai who has the star’s face tattooed on his arm.

A hotel cashier with a master’s degree, Kalaiarasan feels that Vijay “gets what the common young Tamil man worries about”. — The Straits Times/ANN

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