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The Politics of Adulation: Cinema and the Production of Politicians in South India

Sara Dickey
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1993), pp. 340-372
DOI: 10.2307/2059651
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2059651
Page Count: 33
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The Politics of Adulation: Cinema and the Production of Politicians in South India
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Abstract

Sara Dickey explores the connections between the South Indian cinema and politics in "The Politics of Adulation." She focuses on M. G. Ramachandran (popularly known as "MGR"), a film idol turned politician, who served as Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu for a decade before his death in 1987. She shows how MGR had crafted a film persona as a romantic hero and protector of the poor. In India, with its preference for political leaders who are attractive persons acting in altruistic ways, MGR then worked to transfer his film persona into political office. The electorate was so convinced that his political values mirrored his film roles that his reputation survived attacks by rivals and evidence of his own corruption and moral laxity. Dickey also demonstrates how MGR used his fan clubs both as patronage networks and as a means to display in real life his film reputation for altruism, thereby creating a reinforcing network of merit. These clubs, which are involved in a range of film-oriented, political, and social service activities, are dominated by lower-class men for whom the fan clubs can also provide an avenue to some political power and status. As a political cadre and a grooming ground, the clubs stand apart from the regular political party. Dickey believes the elements of uniting cinema and political leadership reflect deeper patterns in South Indian political culture.

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