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Stars and mobilization in south India: what have films got to do with it?


The cinema in India is characterized by the complex if tenuous linkages between film viewing and a range of other publicly staged activities that include participation in conventional political activities. Film stars today are a considerable presence in election campaigns. However, it is only when we shift our focus to south Indian cinemas that we can tell the difference between the overall trend to buttress political parties with charismatic figures drawn from various walks of life (cricket players, television personalities, singers) and the considerably longer history of the film star's imbrication with mobilization.

I will propose that the problem posed by the 'south Indian' variety of stardom is brought into sharp focus by the presence of highly organized fan clubs dedicated to the promotion of film stars. These organizations, which are unique to the region, came under critical examination only in the wake of the Tamil star M.G. Ramachandran's (MGR) success in electoral politics but have had a history that pre-dated his political career (Hardgrave and Niedhart 1975). Neither the degree of organization of fan clubs nor their involvement in politics, by way of campaigning for stars or parties they stood for, had any precedent. Major films stars in south India have thousands of associations dedicated to promoting them. These associations are almost always formed by young urban men who engage in a range of activities from providing free publicity to their idol's films to group viewing of his/her films to charitable work in the name of the star. (1)

Also characteristic of south Indian stardom is its close linkages with the politics of linguistic identity. In three states of the region film stars have emerged as major public figures (and on occasion as successful politicians) as representatives of the interests of a linguistic community. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh the film industry's leading male stars M.G. Ramachandran and N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) formed their own political parties that were avowedly dedicated to protecting the interests of their respective linguistic communities. In neighbouring Karnataka the star Rajkumar, whose death in April 2006 from natural causes triggered riots in Bangalore, didn't enter the electoral arena but nevertheless remained one of the most visible symbols of Kannada linguistic identity for over two decades. (2)

The linkage between fans' associations and the politics of linguistic identity politics is obvious on many counts. We know (or at least strongly suspect--due to the paucity of concrete evidence to the contrary) that historically speaking they are a direct outcome of MGR's involvement in linguistic identity politics. The location of all south Indian film production in Madras surely facilitated their spread to other stars like NTR. We also know that for the most part fans organize around stars who speak their (fans') own language on screen. (3) In spite of this excessive obviousness of the linkage between fan clubs and linguistic identity politics it is possible that the umbrella category of 'language politics' is at best a convenient short hand (which the stars themselves presented themselves as engaging in) and tends to obfuscate the complex processes at work in the double acts of mobilization around film stars.

The south India film star is positioned at the intersection of two kinds of mobilization, both of which point to the production of a surplus of signification, by the cinema, which has in fact become available for political deployment. Stars of the region have had the ability to fuse together mobilization for film consumption and related cinephiliac activities (which virtually any fan club in the world is engaged in) with mobilization for political purposes. Complicating matters is the ways in which the cinema of this region is imbricated with linguistic identity politics. I will deliberately ignore the sociology of the fan club as well as the broader context of linguistic identity politics in order to draw attention to the specific contribution of the cinema to the emergence of the fan who is an object of mobilization on the one hand and the star as the agent around whom this mobilization takes place. I will show that the gradual assembly of techniques and modes of address that produce a certain kind of spectator achieves the fusion between consumption and mobilization. In film cultures across the world this kind of a spectator is being named as the fan, who among other things is characterized by her obsession with cinema and high degree of competence in reading intertextual references and quotations. So while the actual presence of fan clubs in this region (which by the way are almost exclusively male) is a consequence of contingencies, of significance to the students of film and cultural studies is the fact that fandom has acquired such obvious and obscene political manifestations in the public domain.

In the rest of the paper I will focus on developments in Telugu cinema, making occasional references to other cinemas, especially Tamil. This focus on Telugu cinema firstly marks a significant shift in the way south Indian stardom has been addressed in the past. With the exception of Madhava Prasad, for decades now scholars have presumed that the model was first put in place in Tamil Nadu due to the involvement of Dravidian political formations in the film industry and replicated elsewhere. I suggest that Telugu cinema offers an interesting point of entry into the discussion because NTR had no prior involvement in politics of any kind. Further, Telugu films in general do not often overtly refer to themes of linguistic nationalism/identity. And when they did, NTR's roles/films did not have any monopoly over representating the 'Telugu cause.' The situation is thus strikingly different from Tamil as well as Kannada films, which were often (and in the case of the latter continue to be) characterized by a number of direct references to language and linguistic pride, identity, etc. By focussing on Telugu cinema it is therefore possible to start with the assertion that the cinema did not merely inherit an agenda that was already produced elsewhere but generated a set of significations that had significant political consequences.

N.T. Rama Rao began his political career in 1982 with the establishment of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). In less than a year he became the first non-Congress chief minister to be elected in Andhra Pradesh since the formation of the state in 1956. He was expelled from the party in 1995, shortly after being elected to power for a third time and died in 1996 as the leader of a minority faction of the TDP. His exit from the film industry in 1983 (he continued to act in and direct films intermittently till his death) threw up a new crop of stars and new generic formation, known as the mass film. (4) A brief detour of the Telugu mass film, which owes much to NTR's star vehicles of the 1970s and 1980s, is useful to demonstrate how central a concern mobilization is to contemporary Telugu cinema. Needless to say, there are definite parallels to the mass film across the region, as will be testified by anyone who has watched the Tamil superstar Rajnikanth in action.

When we arrive at the mass film in medias res, we notice the centrality of its stars and their obvious connection with mobilization of vast groups of people--including fan clubs off screen and various constituencies on screen. Set against the backdrop of the star-politicians in the region, we are tempted to conclude that we are in the presence of a genre that is about mobilization and indeed devoted to the production of star politicians. In the recent past there have been a number of mass films exemplifying the genre's apparent obsession with mobilization, which is by no means merely a story-level or thematic concern. Two films that come immediately to mind as illustrative of the genre's concerns are Samarasimha Reddy (B. Gopal, 1999) and Indra (B. Gopal, 2002). Featuring Balakrishna and Chiranjeevi, the biggest stars of the Telugu film industry since the late 1980s, both films contain sequences showing the stars standing in open vehicles in the midst of thousands of people. These are 'real' people--not extras or digital effects--who quite literally fill the frame. The star, who can barely be seen when the camera zooms out to reveal the massive size of the crowd, is at the centre, waving at the cheering multitudes.

In the following sections I try to arrive at this moment, where there is a perfect blend of the star's popularity in the real world and in the fiction, each reinforcing and gesturing towards the other. The roles point to fans' associations and other indices of popularity, which are in turn the foundations for a certain kind of screen heroism. The scale of the pro-filmic spectacle, clearly in excess of any story level justification that is provided by individual films, is an index of the star's drawing power. Film consumption and mobilization (on screen but more importantly off screen) are thus presented as being fused together. What history of the cinema can account for the Balakrishna-Chiranjeevi sequence?


Perhaps, and I only state this tentatively and polemically, the earliest link in Indian cinema between consumption of films and mobilization was made by D.G. Phalke, the maker of Indian's first feature films. His Shri Krishna Janma (Birth of Shri Krishna, 1918) is illustrative of the kind of publicness that early Indian filmmakers sought for the cinema. This film ends with a sequence in which we see the teenage Krishna facing the camera while devotees of each of the four varnas enter the frame separately from one side or the other and pray to him. They are appropriately dressed and carry the right tools of their occupations to match the description of the intertitles which name them as 'The Brahmin Devotee', 'The Kshatriya Devotee,' 'The Vaisya Devotee' and 'The Sudra Devotee'. This, the film seems to suggest, is the reality of India on which the film itself will perform a transformative function. After the four varnas make their separate appearances, there is another tableau shot in which all the varnas crowd around Krishna together. Krishna blesses them all.

The cobbling together of a community, indeed the mobilization of separate groups into the formation of an entity that could be named as the nation is presented as something that happens under the aegis of Krishna. (5) But it is possible to suggest that the glue is the cinema itself, bringing together around the moving image diverse or antagonistic groups who have hitherto existed separately. What we see thus is the on screen rendering of the process which K. Sivathamby (1981) attributed to the cinema hall in Tamil Nadu--the performance centre where all castes came together, under the same roof. (6) Shri Krishna Janma allows us to see that the kind of socio-political role Sivathamby attributes to the cinema hall was in fact acknowledged by filmmakers who went on to extend it to the fiction. To reframe the issue a little differently, the history of the cinema hall as a public institution in India is certainly linked to the kind of films that were being watched in this space. Phalke's film reminds us that even in this early stage filmmakers had already begun to put in place a mandate for the cinema. More importantly, the cinema's status as a public institution accrued as a consequence of what the space of the cinema hall facilitated but also the ability of films to take on the challenge of facilitating the production of the social as a unified entity. Disparate groups, occupying separate frames in Phalke's film, had to be brought together by the process of consuming films.

By the early talkie era, which began in 1931 in India, there was an elaboration of what I call the mandate of the cinema in very clear terms. Those who gathered before the screen had to do so for a purpose, which had to be demonstrated at the level of theme/content of films. (7) The socials of the 1930s and 1940s addressed the need to justify filmmaking in terms of nationalist mobilization. Malapilla/Untouchable Girl (8) (Gudavalli Ramabrahmam 1938), one of the earliest social films in the Telugu, deals quite centrally with nationalist issues. At the thematic level, the film is avowedly about incorporating Dalit (so-called 'untouchable') castes into Hindu society, which is gearing itself up for the formation of the Indian nation. Gandhian ideas of caste reform are named as such and are central to the story. (9)

Malapilla opens with the arrival at a Dalit hamlet of a group of Gandhians calling themselves Harijana Seva Sangham (Harijan/Dalit Service Society). The group sings to the 'heroic Dalit son' (Harijana veera kumara) asking him to 'wake up.' The space we see on screen is one that has to be transformed and is in fact rendered visible by the agency--the Seva Sangham--that will transform it by mobilizing its inhabitants. This rather straightforward sequence is inter-cut with documentary style footage of half-naked people scattered across an unidentified place, which does not appear to be a part of the physical geography of the hamlet. We are to understand that these are real Dalits whom the film intends to mobilize into becoming a part of the nation. These people don't belong to the rest of the sequence in any immediate sense--the montage has to work towards creating the link. The cinema as the apparatus of reform brings these outcastes into the frame. Against this larger setting the film's story unfolds. It is one of Dalits and Brahmins overcoming their antagonisms and being eventually transformed into modern subjects. The modern subject in turn is imaged as one who has shed his/her excessive caste identity. (10) Arguably, mobilizing different population groups into performing transformative action that qualifies them for membership in the emerging nation was the foundational raison d'etre of the Telugu social film.


A decade from the production of Ramabrahmam's film a curious development had been noted. It indicated that the cinema had indeed been successful in the actual mobilization of vast numbers of people. Except that this mobilization was not along the lines that reformist filmmakers had dreamed of. Instead, the mobilized were consumers who took their obsession with the movies outside the cinema hall. Further, stars became implicated in the process. The first significant event pointing to this development was reported in the film journal Roopavani. Large numbers of people had gathered in different towns to catch a glimpse of the stars of the successful folklore film Balaraju (G. Balaramaiah, 1948) that were on a promotional tour. (11) The size of the enthusiastic crowds was beyond the anticipation of the cinema hall owners hosting the stars, as well as the police. In many places there were police cane-charges on the crowds (Deshpande 1948: 68).

In Balaraju the action revolves around the heroine Sita, (S. Varalakshmi) and not Balaraju played by Akkineni Nageswara Rao. Why then is the film named Balaraju? Madhava Prasad points out with reference to a Rajkumar film with casts him in a similarly passive role that the male star's role in the film is purely symbolic: 'From the point of view of narrative movement, however, he is a marginal figure' (1999: 44). In Balaraju the male lead that is the husband of the heroine is not required to perform any heroic actions. It is the heroine who is agentive. In the later years two things happened: firstly the star became the focus of the narrative in a manner that was clearly not anticipated by Balaraju and secondly, the emerging focus was the male star.

Eileen Bowser points out that in USA both independent producers and licensed film production companies initially resisted the star-system, or rather refused to institute one. Biograph, for instance, was unwilling to supply the names of the players or other staff until 1913 although there was a demand from viewers that producers did so (106-108). The suppression of identity of stars did not however prevent fan mail from being sent to the 'Biograph Girl' and other nameless stars (109). The recognition of the players was clearly something that viewers found exciting and pleasurable. On this count alone the sighting of Nageswara Rao off screen might have cheered the film's viewers.

The star-system is no doubt founded on the banal fact of recognition, which is indeed a precondition for the institution of the system. Bowser's point is that film producers were forced to acknowledge the fact of viewer's recognition of actors and do something about it. What they did constitutes the next important development in the emergence of a star-system in any particular industrial context. The next step, I will suggest, is the narrativisation of star recognition or the assembling of regimes of storytelling that harness the fact of recognition to produce pleasure and intelligibility.

Patala Bhairavi/Goddess of the Netherworld (K.V. Reddy, 1951) is historically and analytically useful for the kind of star it puts in place. The film depicts the adventures of a gardener who falls in love with the princess of the kingdom. He defeats an evil sorcerer twice over to marry her and live happily ever after. Quite early in Patala Bhairavi, Tota Ramudu (literally gardener Ramudu, played by NTR; notice the play with the actor's name) and his friend Anji (Balakrishnan) go to the city square and join a crowd of people watching a song performance. The song itself is on heroism and states that every eon (yugam) has a hero (kathanayakudu, literally protagonist) who leads the populace into a state of well being. This, the singer adds, is the lesson of history. When the singer asks the crowd, towards the end of the song, if the bravest of men is amongst the audience (aa ati sahasule unnara?), one onlooker quickly shouts Ramudu's name, only to be mildly rebuked by the obviously pleased hero. Soon after the song ends Ramudu confronts the queen's brother (Relangi) who attempts to extort money from the crowd with the help of some soldiers. Ramudu organizes the crowd against the soldiers, beating up the king's brother-in-law in the process. The sequence ends with the crowd shouting the slogan: "kathanayakudiki jai" (long live the protagonist), after he is decorated with a turban and wrapped in a shawl.

Significantly, the ceremonial nomination of the film's protagonist as a hero occurs in and by the public before the protagonist confronts the forces of evil, that is, before the story proper has even begun. (12) Furthermore, even before Ramudu confronts the soldiers he is already recognized as a hero (by the onlooker). The character Ramudu thus has a history of heroism, which is not explained in the film. Further, the narrative postpones the demonstration of his valour.

How is this time lag, between the naming of Ramudu as a hero of superlative proportions and the narrative's demonstration of his valour, to be understood? The narrative demands that the spectator defers judgment of the protagonist for a period of time and reposes her faith in the narrative.

At this point of time (1951), there was nothing in the career of NTR to support expectations raised in the early part of the film. NTR had not featured in similar roles earlier and was not a stunt/action hero. Paradoxically, it is precisely the relative insignificance of NTR's star status that allows us to see that the kind of role envisaged for the star in the film. NTR himself was not in fact a star in 1951. The narrative is organized around Ramudu/NTR, making him an object of spectatorial investment and more importantly trust.

This film was made at a time when stars were becoming focal points of hitherto unprecedented mobilization of a new category of film consumer who was taking his obsession with the cinema into public spaces beyond the cinema hall. Patala Bhairavi contributes significantly towards directing this obsession to the glamorous male star (in an industry that had few prior models of male stardom to work on). In doing so it puts in place a new kind of narrative even as it address the new 'problem' or possibilities that Balaraju brought to the industry's notice. Not surprisingly, Patala Bhairavi too celebrated its 100-day run by parading its stars and once again groups of film enthusiasts gathered only to be dispersed by cane-wielding policemen. (13)

Patala Bhairavi's attempt to account for the star in narrative terms was in itself not remarkable. All film industries grapple with the issue of star's role in organizing the narrative. The film marks an important maneuver that facilitated what Madhava Prasad calls cine-politics, which he notes was coeval with the emergence of the first generation male stars in south India and the reduced importance of the female star--industrially and narratively--in the process. Prasad's notion of cine-politics is useful to assess not only the developments that led to the emergence of the NTR vehicle of the 1970s and 80s and later the mass film but also to situate the question of the politics in the cinema in a larger socio-political context. Prasad's object is the Madras film industry between the nineteen fifties and seventies, when films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam were being produced in the city (now called Chennai). Prasad argues,
 Cine-politics is not about the infusion of star charisma into
 electoral politics, nor about the use of cinema to disseminate
 party slogans. It is a distinct form of political engagement that
 emerged in some of the linguistically defined states of southern
 India at a certain historical juncture where Indian nationalism's
 ideological suturing could not take care of certain gaps in the
 symbolic chain. A set of contingent factors led to a situation
 where cinema, a form of entertainment that was then [1950s]
 learning to speak, came to be chosen as the site of a strong
 political investment, where audiences responded with enthusiasm to
 an offer of leadership emanating from the screen and, through fans
 associations that emerged later, established a concrete set of
 everyday practices that re-affirmed the position of the star as
 leader. (49)

The specifically south Indian nature of cine-politics is the adulation of stars 'based on the ascription to the star of the status of a representative. The star is taken to represent the linguistic community for whom his films were made (41).' For Prasad substitution is important element in the process: '[S]ometimes, political representation is not effected through acts of election or delegation, but through substitution, i.e., through the unexpected arrival of a figure who seems to be already endowed with the legitimacy to represent us' (46, original emphasis). One important question that emerges in the light of Prasad's discussion is the manner in which the industry produces a convincing authority figure. The second is how this figure can come to represent a linguistic community.

There is a commonsensical understanding that the authority figure emerges as a direct consequence of the viewer's inability to see that stars are ordinary people and not gods or legendary heroes. Chidananda Das Gupta has the most clearly articulated position on this but others like Narasimha Rao have made similar arguments. (14) This view would suggest that the mythological and the folklore film are the most critical sources of the star's authority. For it is in these films that the star plays the figures of extraordinary authority (gods, kings). This is a view that Prasad rejects because the problem that the socials of the 1950s were trying to resolve was precisely one of authority. Whereas in the mythological film, the star's authority was a direct consequence of the role he played (as god he could perform superhuman tasks and also speak with authority), the social had to create a framework in which the figure of authority could be anchored. He goes on to show the relationship between the kind of roles stars played on and off screen to demonstrate how the authority question was addressed by the industry. I have no disagreements with Prasad but would like to focus more narrowly on the role played by star recognition and the ways in which this is woven into the very narrative structure of films.


At this stage it would be useful to draw attention to the distinctiveness of the mode of production of the local in NTR vehicles. Other industries, including for example Hong Kong, demonstrate that it is not uncommon for the cinema to lay claim to its context of production and reception even as articulate sections of the viewing public demand that a film demonstrate, indeed display its situatedness (for want of a better word). In short, film industries are often called up on prove their Hong Kong or Telugu or something-or-the-other-ness. While such demands and supply of somethingness are often related to identity politics (Hong Kong, Tamil, etc) it is important to avoid overloading the phenomenon at hand with an a priori set of characteristics that are merely reflected in films.

It is also useful to recall that there is a pre-NTR history of imbrication of Telugu cinema with the politics of linguistic identity. The Madras film industry term nativity gives a sense of the kind of demands that were being made on the industry and individual films alike. Nativity has nothing to do with Christianity. The concept nativity has rich connotations in Telugu and 'local colour' would be a crude description of it. For decades now, nativity has been something of a hold-all category for the attempt by the south Indian film industries to create a diegetic space that is at once distinct from and related to the (Indian) 'national' one. Nativity is a crucial site for the often-difficult negotiation between linguistic identity or the particularity of the local and the larger Indian nation-state. (15) Nativity is closely associated with a certain variety of realist melodrama in Telugu and Tamil cinema in the seventies and eighties. Arguments have been made by film critics about nativity being an important source of realistic presentation. However, nativity is also used to denote a less contested and more loosely defined notion of the local (scenes of rural life or the customs, practices and also locations that epitomize linguistic and cultural specificity). The concept suggests that films not only have to speak in Telugu, but also be demonstrably Telugu in terms of what is shown on screen. What nativity translated into at each point of time in the industry's history is an issue that I will not go into. Just as 'Indian images' was no longer an adequate justification of their existence or a proof of their commitment to nationalism, use of Telugu language alone was far from a satisfactory criterion for qualifying films as being Telugu. (16) The industry and journalism's need for such a concept foregrounds how important it was for Telugu films to make an explicit claim on the local.

Notice for example this argument by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, a major novelist, essayist, occasional scriptwriter and founding member of the Revolutionary Writers' Association (VIRASAM). He argues that the films of his time were 'culturally something of a retreat' (5). He arrives at the following assessment of the situation: 'Telugu films lost their "National" character and nativity because of the success of the "folklore" picture and the revival of mythologicals' (6). The huge premium that Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, arguably the best known public intellectual of the period, lays on nativity indicates how important the concept was in assessing the industry's cultural worth. Nativity then is the additional demand (to 'nationalism'), possibly a specifically south Indian one, that is being made on the filmic text (as distinct from actors, location of production facilities, etc).

In the light of his formulation, it is possible to suggest that the claim on the local that NTR went on to make was indeed remarkable. His claim was advanced from the standpoint of precisely the kind of films that were directly traceable to that moment of 'cultural retreat." Not only was NTR closely associated with both mythologicals and folklore films but his socials from the late sixties, which I will examine briefly, were not going to be founded on nativity. In fact, they would digress further from it than the social had ever done in the past. Also interesting is the point made by Madhava Prasad that NTR and MGR did not quite have the cultural authenticity of their immediate rivals/competitors (Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Sivaji Ganesan respectively). (Prasad "Cine-Politics") NTR was thus going to stake a claim for the authority to represent the Telugu nation without recourse to cultural authenticity that his competitor had. How was this possible?

A crucial manoeuvre that NTR's vehicles from the 1960s were able to make was to extend the linguistic metaphor (already at work in the articulations around nativity) in a new direction. In NTR's later vehicles speaking in Telugu dovetailed into speaking to a subject that could be named as a constituent member of the Telugu nation. How to address this subject was going to become a major issue and moreover, address and interpellation was going to be conflated with language itself. Two processes, which can only separated for analytical purposes, made this possible. The first was to produce the star as someone who stood above the narrative and was inserted into it to make the story happen. The second was to fuse the star's screen history with History (cultural, linguistic, national, and civilizational). The context in which the figure of authority of Prasad's analysis could arrive was one in which the cinema was able to put in place a particular mode of address that located the spectator in a space endowed with linguistic, cultural and civilizational valence. Therefore the foundations south Indian cine-politics lie in the production of the local.

The Telugu film industry did not immediately build on the Patala Bhairavi mode of star production. A stable star-system nevertheless emerged with two male stars at its centre: N.T. Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao. An interesting development occurred in Devata/Angel (K. Hemambharadara Rao, 1965), almost exactly at a time when a new generation of stars were to make their presence felt in the industry. Devata is a domestic melodrama whose action is centred on its female lead Savitri who plays a double role. The film's story restricts the male lead to a role that is more symbolic than agentive. About an hour into the film, Varahalu (Padmanabham), a film buff and aspiring actor who worships pictures of film stars, walks into the room of his cousin Prasad (N.T. Rama Rao, the film's hero) and remarks that the latter looks like N.T. Rama Rao in the film Shavukaru/Money Lender (L.V. Prasad, 1950, among the star's most successful early socials). Varahalu goes on to predict that Prasad will become a 'great hero'. This biographical reference is not a one off in the film--among the pictures of film stars Varahalu prays to is one of N.T. Rama Rao himself in a mythological role. This degree of explicit intertextuality is unusual even in the NTR films made a decade later. (17) Interestingly enough Devata does not do much more with the star than to underscore his stardom. On the contrary, Varahalu's comment is brushed aside as a joke by Prasad and the film goes on with the narrative remaining innocent of NTR's presence.

The logical next step, it is possible to say with hindsight, was taken in Kathanayakudu/Protagonist (K. Hemambharadara Rao, 1969) when the viewer's recognition of the star was integrated into the organization of the narrative. We may note in passing that the film features two future chief ministers--NTR and Jayalalithaa (the latter went on to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu). It is with this landmark film that the narrative of Telugu films begins to exhibit an acute awareness of the star's special status and goes on to present the star as having an existence within the fiction but also simultaneously standing above it. Till this happens, I will suggest, the star does not emerge as the figure 'who seems to be already endowed with the legitimacy to represent.'

Kathanayakudu quite literally names NTR the star as the protagonist/kathanayakudu of the fiction. The pre-credit sequence of the film shows the villains killing an honest schoolteacher and going on to collect money from the public in the dead man's name. Towards the end of the sequence, the villains laugh maniacally having appropriated the money collected. The voice over narration states that is the story of every village and city even as there is a cut to a panoramic view of an unnamed city. "A hero [kathanayakudu] is needed to confront this [evil]", the narrator says just as there cut to the NTR character--whose role in the fiction is yet to established--walking on a road towards the camera. At this point there is a freeze frame and the film's title card appears, labelling the character as the protagonist/kathanayakudu. The point is not that the star-protagonist is seen immediately later in the title sequence doling out instant justice to the pettiest of offenders (street vendors selling dirty food and the like). Does the narrative logic leave any room to question the legitimacy of the kathanayakudu or the naming process itself?

The process of naming the NTR character (about whom we know nothing, not even his name) as the hero mandated to deal with the evil in 'every village and city' ensures that the star is offered as an object of spectatorial investment at the very moment of his introduction. The film offers no logical explanation for why this should indeed be the case. The investment is to be made based on an implicit trust in the narrative but it is a trust based on the spectator's awareness of the character's star status. This man is going to bring justice and we can trust him to do so because he has a history--he is NTR. Teleologically speaking, we have not yet arrived at the degree of sophistication displayed by the NTR films of the seventies, let alone the elaborately choreographed star introductions of the mass-film. But we are getting there.

We therefore witness a 180-degree turn from Patala Bhairavi. For here is a well known star whose star status is being recalled by the narrative at the very outset in order for the story to begin. We witness in Kathanayakudu an important moment in Telugu film history but also a new phase in the development of cine-politics of the south Indian variety itself. Notably, the banal fact of star recognition is at the heart of this development. This film was remade in Tamil as Nam Nadu/Our Land (Jambulingam, 1969). It is widely believed that Nam Nadu contributed to the building of MGR as a star with a definitive political agenda. (18) The crucial difference between the two films is that the 'original' is free of any overt references to politics of any kind, let alone that of linguistic identity.

Rickshawkaran/Rickshawman (M. Krishnan, 1971) is a Tamil film whose narrative is apparently 'aware' of the star MGR's presence in the diegesis. The film also ensures that there is an adequate working out of this awareness at the level of the narrative. In addition there are the usual references to Tamil language and culture. I will suggest that this film is exemplary of the kind of possibilities opened up by Nam Nadu/Kathanayakudu. In the opening sequence we witness MGR participating in a rickshaw race as thousands of onlookers cheer on. He wins the race and a huge crowd of people surrounds him as a woman garlands him. Although there is a flimsy story level justification for the enthusiasm of the crowds--he is after all a winner of a race--there can be little doubt that we see the star in a situation that is analogous to the world of fans' associations as well as electoral politics. Mass adulation within the fiction is by now something that does not require any further explanation, although the remarkable ability of the star to gather the masses around him is not linked to electoral politics within the fiction. Also fascinating about the opening sequence of this film is that the scene of Selvan (MGR) being garlanded is intercut with scenes of a rickshaw puller being shot by the villain. Selvan hears the gun shot even as he is being garlanded at the crowded racecourse (which would be a 'movie mistake' if we assume that conventional realist representation is being attempted by the film). He then rushes to the scene of the murder to find a burning corpse.


It is as if MGR is entering the world of the fiction from another domain, one where he is already popular with the masses, to deal with the problem (of injustice, failed patriarchy) posed by the fiction. As the story unfolds we are provided evidence of the extra-ordinariness of the star at the level of the story--he is a graduate and former soldier who is widely recognized as a leader of rickshaw pullers and other common people. In short, the rest of the film justifies the behaviour of the crowds in the opening sequence by showing the goodness and nobility of the character. The narrative will therefore go on to establish a link that the spectator is already aware of: MGR is a leader on and off screen.

The parallel developments in Telugu cinema demonstrate that the loss of innocence is not merely because of MGR's involvement in electoral politics but because of something that the star seemed to embody. Before attempting to name what this might be, I would like to cite a few examples from the vehicles of NTR to show how there is a further refinement and sophistication with respect to the deployment of the star. A focus on these would allow us to see the emergence of the figure of authority in cinematic terms, rather than thematic ones. The relative absence of overtly political themes in NTR's films is therefore a useful counterpoint to MGR's career.

In Saradar Paparayudu/Leader Paparayudu (Dasari Narayana Rao, 1980), there is a polemical reference to the anti-colonial rebel Alluri Sitaramaraju. The film has a burra katha (a folk performance) about the capture and death of Sitaramaraju. The burra katha performance is intercut with sequences from the life of Sitaramaraju in which NTR who is watching the performance also plays the rebel. Presumably Paparayudu (NTR) is recreating the rebel's story in his mind. The events leading to Sitaramaraju's death that the story within the film narrates is strikingly different from the one shown in the hugely successful film Alluri Sitaramaraju (V. Ramachandra Rao, 1974). A minor detail that assumes significance in the light of the widely circulated rumour that NTR was planning to make a film based on Sitaramaraju but was beaten to it by the younger actor Krishna whose production company made the film. Sardar Paparayudu thus gives us a glimpse of the film NTR never made. Even if the rumour is wholly false, the burra katha's version of the story of the legendary rebel not only draws direct parallels between the role of NTR in the film (as a rebel) and Sitaramaraju but also the considerable differences in the hero's death shown in both the films. Framing it within the burra katha narration further emphasizes the authenticity of NTR's portrayal of Sitaramaraju. Burra katha is not only a folk form but also one that has a considerable history of being associated with anti-colonial and communist insurgencies in the state. Notice therefore the complex ways in which the star becomes central to the production of spectator-in-the-know. The point of course is not whether most viewers are able to enter into the polemics of Sitaramaraju's death. The spectator is produced here as an entity, which is grounded in a historical and cultural context that can become available for labeling as the Telugu one.

That the Teluguness of NTR vehicles of this period was not necessarily predicated on references to the history of the Telugus becomes clear when we look at Justice Chaudhary (K. Raghavendra Rao, 1982). In this film NTR as Justice Chaudhary sings the song 'Chattaniki Nyayaniki Jarige Ee Samaramlo ...' ('In this the battle between law and justice') drawing attention to the similarity between his predicament and that of mythological characters by inserting brief sequences from three different mythological films. Strikingly, NTR himself plays the mythological roles that are referred to. The issue here is not the projection of NTR in god-like terms. What the film is trying to do is not to put in place a credulous spectator who believes that NTR is a god. Instead it posits a spectator whose civilizational past is thoroughly mediated by the cinema. And it is a cinema, which has NTR at its centre.

By the early eighties therefore we witness the enmeshing of the references to the past with references to cinematic history and also the centrality of the star in the business of remembering. Both Sardar Paparayudu and Justice Chaudhary suggest that the star NTR is closely connected with History--to the extent that the past is inconceivable without the star's mediation. Moreover, the cinematic past is potentially identifiable in terms of linguistic identity also because Telugu cinema is after all the cinema of the Telugus and had considerable history of being produced as such by the industry as well film critics.

I pointed out that critical discourse on Telugu cinema seems to suggest that NTR was eminently disqualified from making a Telugu nationalist claim. How then did NTR succeed? The short answer would be the film industry had put in place a framework which facilitated the making of a hitherto unprecedented claim: popular cinema of the kind that NTR represented was a source--not merely a reflection as was insisted upon in the infusion of films with nativity--of linguistic and cultural identity of the Telugus. In order for this to happen, a whole array of techniques and developments had to be brought together to make the explicit claim that the star represented and embodied the local. This was a local that had no necessary connection with prior or contemporary examples of cultural authenticity on screen or the Telugu identity of the literary imagination, which Mitchell argues was founded on the notion of 'love of language.' ("An Attachment to Language") The inevitable presentation of NTR in historical and mythological roles is evidence of the kind of shift that was accomplished. Let me illustrate the point further by drawing attention to another kind of technique used in his vehicles.

Kondaveeti Simham/ Lion of Kondaveedu (K. Raghavendra Rao, 1981) is a film that allows me to clarify what exactly I have in mind when I use the phrase 'embodiment of the local.' The film features NTR in the roles of a sincere police.... officer as well as his son separated at birth. In thematic terms there is no overt reference to Teluguness or issues of linguistic identity. The sequence I want to draw attention to is the one introducing the son. It is set in the countryside and occurs immediately after the police officer Ranjeet Kumar (NTR) brushes aside the threat of the villain Nagaraju (Satyanarayana) to eliminate his family. The dynasty (vamsam) is dedicated to upholding justice and can never be destroyed, says Ranjeet Kumar. There is then a cut to a rural setting, unlike the one inhabited by Ranjeet Kumar. Tranquillity of village life, established in the first shot panning the hills and the houses in the village, is disrupted by the loud complaints of Sitapathi (Nagesh), a brahmin with a topknot. He runs to Ramu (young NTR) complaining that a girl from the city (Sridevi) has apparently insulted him. The hero goes on teach her a lesson. What is interesting about this sequence is that the heroine is named as a 'city girl' (basti pilla) and identified as such by the deployment of a range of signifiers--she wears a frock, sports a hat, declares that villages are fine for short trips but impossible to live in and uses English words/abuses. Moreover, her friends are dressed in 'traditional' clothes unlike her. On the contrary NTR, presumably a village youth, is not identifiably a villager--he is neither dressed in a dhoti like Sitapathi nor does he bear any markers of rural life. What claim does he have on the 'local', which the heroine clearly does not?


Evidently, NTR can inhabit the village and speak for insulted village folk despite of the absence of specific signifiers indicating his country origins. The sequence seems to suggest that the character's claim on the local (not just the village) need not be elaborated upon or demonstrated--it can be taken for granted by the narrative. The only reason the sequence works is because equivalence is created between the recognition of the star and his habitation of the local. The absence of a villager-like-look is more than adequately compensated by the fact of his stardom. It is as if he inhabits the local because he is recognised as the star NTR.

Kondaveeti Simham draws attention to the critical importance of star recognition to the occurrence of what Prasad, as we have already noted, calls substitution which results in 'the unexpected arrival of the figure of authority'. NTR as Ramu not only belongs to the village but is also capable of representing its people. It is notable that even at this late stage in NTR's career, the local is not yet named as the Telugu nation. In the film it is the rural to begin with. But Ramu soon moves to the city, inhabiting it with equal ease. Let us also not forget that the other NTR already inhabits the city and the star therefore occupies both spaces simultaneously. The local then is what can be identified as belong to 'us.' It is predicated on the existence of a community, which will be represented by the star himself. The heroine's role as someone who does not occupy the space of the local serves as a foil for NTR characters (and much later to those played by the mass film's stars).

In Kondaveeti Simham it becomes possible to see that cinematically speaking the local is that context which is shared by a viewing collective. The collective, I suggest, does not have an existence prior to the cinema but is one that has been formed by the encounter with the cinema. Although empirically speaking its members might have a prior community identity (linguistic, national, etc), it is by the deployment of cinematic techniques that a shared history is called to mind. Most importantly, this is primarily a shared history of pleasure of the cinema itself. What we recognize when we see Ramu / NTR is not so much a star whose biography is familiar but his ability to perform for us. Not surprisingly, the sequence in Kondaveeti Simham ends in song. The 'lesson' that the city girl is taught is in the form of being forced sing and dance with the hero. The ability of the star to instantly create and address spectatorial expectations is achieved with remarkable efficiency by the end of this sequence.

The local may thus be understood as a frame of intelligibility that is available to the viewer interpellated as the spectator who belongs to a particular location and/or cultural context. The local was named as linguistic community and became available for the purposes of electoral politics. The local thus produced may have been misnamed by NTR himself as the Telugu nation, not only post-facto but in defiance of the hitherto existing link between nativity and Teluguness. To say the least, no other mode of imagining the Telugu nation is capable of accounting for the centrality that a star like NTR occupies in it. As for themes of NTR vehicles, there is no doubt an increasing preference in the late seventies and eighties for themes of mobilization and the depiction of various groups of people as his followers or the constituency on whose behalf he acts. (19) Such thematic preoccupations are arguably related to the simultaneous emergence of NTR as a special kind of star.


A couple of questions are posed by NTR's star vehicles, which I have argued produced him as the embodiment of the local. The first has to do with the extent of their utility for electoral politics. The question is not easily or satisfactorily answered. Apart from tracing his core political appeal--on the lines of linguistic identity and pride--back to his films and identifying what NTR might have carried from his screen career to his election campaigns, I do not wish to advance any major argument about how films contributed to his political success. If there is a connection at all between his films and his political success, I wish to argue, the production of the local is an important one. On a somewhat cautious note I will also add that it is perhaps not coincidental that NTR's election speeches were highly charged and emotive performances. I would like to draw attention to Adorno's remark about the excessive performance of the leader in post-war fascist propaganda in USA:
 Just as the housewife, who has enjoyed the sufferings and good
 deeds of her favorite heroine for a quarter of an hour over the
 air, feels impelled to buy the soap sold by the sponsor, so the
 listener to the fascist propaganda act, after getting pleasure from
 it, accepts the ideology represented by the show. "Show" is indeed
 the right word. The achievement of the self-styled leader is a
 performance reminiscent of the theater, of sport and of so-called
 religious revivals. (224)

Adorno's statement is not without problems, which I am sure an entire generation of students has pointed out in their term papers. Moreover, I do not wish to suggest that NTR is a fascist. However, Adorno's remark draws attention to the centrality of collective enjoyment in the domain of politics proper, as also its dangers. With reference to NTR, when he began to speak Telugu like a character that walked out of a film, he seemed to return his listeners to the cinema hall. (20)

The second question has to do with contemporary Telugu film's amplification of the techniques found in the NTR vehicles, which is most clearly evident in the mass film. The extent of the mass film's debt to the later day films of NTR as well as the ways in which it amplifies their techniques will become evident from the intricate web of intertextual references in the mass films of major stars. As early as Hero (Vijaya Bapineedu, 1984), the film's heroine (Radhika) and her mother (Nirmala) travel in a rickshaw decorated with Chiranjeevi film posters. Needless to say Chiranjeevi is the male lead of this film. In one sequence there is a poster in which both the hero and heroine feature. Why is the mass film invested in the continuing production of this category of spectator, which NTR conveniently hailed as the member of the Telugu nation? The commonsensical understanding of the careers of the major south Indian stars is that they are aspiring politicians. This they might well be. But surely a less speculative explanation of their films is in order. While a historical account would clarify matters regarding the other south Indian industries, it is important to note that there is no cultural essentialist explanation for the phenomenon of south Indian stardom.

With the exit of NTR from the film industry new stars like Chiranjeevi and Balakrishna were built relying on the techniques developed in NTR vehicles of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amplification could well be a response to these stars' relative lack of (screen) history. The mass film's inheritance of the techniques for producing the local has to be seen against the backdrop of new developments around this time. The rise of television is an important factor. The state owned Doordarshan, with a majority of its programmes in Hindi from the 1980s, created a national audience serving as a perfect backdrop for a phenomenal investment in the local in Telugu cinema. Soon however, cable and satellite broadcast of Telugu language programmes, including a huge volume of films and film related programming, paved the way for a post-celluloid career of films which in fact pitted the cinema and television in direct competition with each other. (21) Although it is difficult to tell whether television is in fact responsible, it is undeniable that the film market had actually begun to shrink by the mid-nineties. Figures put out by various agencies indicate that about 10% or slightly over 300 cinema halls in Andhra Pradesh closed down between 1995 and 2000. (22) This decline, which continues till the present day, is a clear indication of the reduced importance of the cinema as a cultural form in this part of the country. Ironically, never before have so many films been available for viewing on television and digital formats. It also corresponds to the period of the decline of the mass film (or its much-reduced importance for the film industry). The phenomenal increase in fan activity during the 1980s and early 1990s too reaches something of a plateau during the crisis years of the mass film (mid 1990s) although occasional spurts are witnessed with the entry of some new stars with significant lineages (NTR Junior, who is NTR's grandson, for example).


There were other threats to the grip of Telugu cinema over its own traditional market. These include the increased penetration of imported films (including Hong Kong action films and soft porn films from across the world) into the hinterlands of the film market and the attractiveness of cheap films dubbed from other Indian languages for distributors and exhibitors. In the 1990s Hollywood films began to be dubbed into Telugu. In the 1980s other genres in Telugu, including the low budget comedies featuring Rajendra Prasad, began to broaden the intertextual field to include much more than the star's own 'biography' and the mass film was quick to incorporate this development.

Paradoxically, the mass film's amplification of the NTR vehicle's techniques is an indication of the impossibility of the mass film's stars to replace NTR. In thematic terms the absence of the patriarch is critical for the reorganization of the social around the new figure of authority--the rowdy-citizen played by a big star. The shrinking space of the cinema too has to be compensated by the mass film. During NTR's time the contours of the market for Telugu films roughly corresponded with what he named the Telugu nation. This correspondence allowed for the emergence of a star that could make certain claims to representing the masses. Neither the mass film nor the next generation of stars has access to this position of privilege. Moreover, the increasingly vocal demand for the formation of the Telangana state by dividing Andhra Pradesh is a pointer to the possibility of a fundamentally fragmented film market.

In conclusion, the late vehicles of NTR and Telugu cinema allow us to pose the question of south Indian stardom in terms that are far broader than the thematic concerns of their films. In the light of NTR's career as well as the subsequent developments in Telugu cinema it is possible to argue for a substantial reworking of the commonsensical understanding of the linkages between cinema and linguistic identity politics in the region. Further, the particular variant of stardom that thrived and continues to thrive in south Indian film industries forces us to make distinctions between the general trend to import charisma into the domain of electoral politics, which is as old as electoral politics itself in India, and the specific contribution, if any, of the cinema to this aspect of our public life.


This essay is part of a manuscript that was written for the most part during my tenure as a visiting fellow at the Asia Research Foundation, National University of Singapore. An earlier version was presented at the South Asian Studies Programme at the university. The essay in its current form is a direct outcome of a paper presented at the Work in Progress series at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor W. "Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda." The Stars Down to Earth and Other Essays on the Irrational in Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. 218-231.

Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce. Indian Talkie Golden Jubilee Celebration Souvenir. Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce, 1981.

Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce. Andhra Pradesh Film Diary 1995. Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce, 1995.

Baskaran, S.Theodore. The Message Bearers: The National Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India 1880-1945. Madras: Cre-A, 1981.

Bowser, Eileen. History of the American Cinema Vol. II: The Transformation of Cinema 1907-1915. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1990.

Das Gupta, Chidananda. The Painted Face. Delhi: Roli Books, 1991

Dickey, Sara.Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1993.

Deshpande, B.L. "Bezawadalo Balaraju Satadinotsavamulo Prekshakulapai Lathiprayogam" [Audience Cane-Charged During the Hundred Day Function of Balaraju in Bezawada]. Roopavani (July 1948): 68.

Hardgrave Jr., Robert L. and Anthony Niedhart. "Film and Political Consciousness in Tamil Nadu." Economic and Political Weekly. 10.1-2 (January, 1975): 27-35.

Kaali, Sundar. "Narrating Seduction: Vicissitudes of the Sexed Subject in Tamil Nativity Film." Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. Ravi S. Vasudevan ed., New Delhi: Oxford LIP, 2000. 168-190.

Kannala. "The Ebb and Flow of the Tide." Telugu Cinema. K.N.T. Sastry. ed Hyderabad: Cinema Group, 1996. 21-37.

Kutumba Rao, Kodavatiganti. "Telugu Films: An Industry in Exile." The Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce Journal 9.5-6 (1964): 3-7.

Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1982.

Mitchell, Lisa. "An Attachment to Language: Biographical Narratives and the Telegu Language in Late 19th Century Southern India." Space, Sexuality and Postcolonial Cultures. Manas Ray, ed. Papers from the Cultural Studies Workshop. Occasional Papers No. 6, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, 2003. 73-96.

Murthy. 'Prekshakulapai Lathi Prayogalu Inka Kaavali' ['More Lathi-Charges on Audiences Needed'] in the column 'Tarapadhamlo.' Roopavani (July 1948): 7.

Narasimha Rao, C. N.T. Rama Rao Rajakeeya Mano Visleshana [N.T. Rama Rao, a Political Psychoanalysis] Telugu. Vijayawada: Nani International, 1988.

Osella, Caroline and Philippo Osella. "Young Malayali Men and Their Movie Heroes." South Asian Masculinities: Context of Change, Sites of Continuity. Radhika Chopra, Caroline Osella and Philippo Osella, eds. New Delhi: Kali for Women, Women Unlimited, 2004. 224-261.

Pandian, M.S.S. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics. Delhi, Newbury Park, London: Sage, 1992.

Pandurangarao, Y. 'Patala Bhairavi Mota' ('Patala Bhairavi's Noise') in 'Prajabhiprayam.' Roopavani (August 1951): 40.

Prabhu. Swarnayugamlo Annapurna ('Annapurna in the Golden Age,' Telugu). Hyderabad: Annapurna Pictures Private Limited, 1993.

Prasad, M. Madhava. Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1998.

--. "Cine-Politics: On the Political Significance of Cinema in South India." Journal of the Moving Image. No.1 (Autumn 1999): 37-52.

Radhakrishnan, Ratheesh. "Looking at Mohanlal: Spectatorial Ordering and the Emergence of the 'Fan' in Malayalam Cinema." Deep Focus. July-Dec. 2002: 29-38.

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish. "The Phalke Era: Conflict of Traditional Form and Modern Technology." Interrogating Modernity. Tejaswini Niranjana et al. eds. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1993. 47-82.

--. "The Epic Melodrama." Journal of Arts and Ideas 25-26 (December 1993): 55-70.

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish and Paul Willemen, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1994.

Report of the Indian Cinematograph Committee 1927-28. Madras: Government Press, 1928.

Sastry, K.N.T., ed. Telugu Cinema. Hyderabad: Cinema Group, 1986.

Sivathamby, Karthigesu. Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication. Madras: New Century Book House, 1981.

Srinivas, S.V. "Devotion and Defiance in Fan Activity." Journal of Arts and Ideas. No. 29 (January 1996): 67-83.

--. 2000. "Is there a Public in the Cinema Hall?" Framework. No. 42. (2000) (Online Edition). http://www.frameworkon

Workshop on Tamil Cinema: History, Culture, Theory. "Dossier." Organized by Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, August 1997.

Workshop on Telugu Cinema: History, Culture, Theory. "Dossier." Organized by Anveshi Research Centre for Women's Studies and Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Hyderabad, 13th-16th August 1999.


(1) For an account of fan clubs in Tamil Nadu see Sara Dickey 1993. See Srinivas 1996 for a discussion of fan activity in Andhra Pradesh. There has been an upsurge of fan activity and organizations in Kerala too in recent years, as pointed out by Radhakrishnan and Osella and Osella.

(2) Rajkumar's fans have carried out a number of campaigns related to what they see as linguistic issues. These include agitations against English medium schools, demands for preferential recruitment of Kannada speakers in government jobs, etc. They are also in the forefront of the celebration of the Kannada Rajyotsava Day (the formation of the state of Karnataka, November 1st) every year.

(3) For example, the Rajnikanth associations in Andhra Pradesh are formed by Tamil speakers living here. Rajnikanth is interesting for another reason. His mother tongue is not Tamil but Marathi and he was 'discovered' in Bangalore, Karnataka. It is not difficult to see that his screen career and not 'mother tongue' makes him an idol of the Tamils living in Andhra (as well as Tamil Nadu, of course).

(4) For a brief account of developments in Telugu cinema after NTR, visit: http:// telugu/

(5) Phalke's relationship with Indian nationalism informs his work in complex ways. Discussing what he calls the 'Phalke/Bhakta Vidur' idiom, Rajadhyaksha says this idiom 'went along with the line that a whole technology, to say nothing of a major culture industry, could now designate itself as Swadeshi which itself sought cultural legitimation through the act of making and showing so-called "Indian" images' (Rajadhyaksha, "The Phalke Era" 62).

(6) In Sivathamby's words, 'The Cinema Hall was the first performance centre in which all Tamils sat under the same roof. The basis of the seating is not on the hierarchic position of the patron but essentially on his purchasing power. If he cannot afford paying the higher rate, he has either to keep away from the performance or be with "all and sundry"' (18).

(7) See the dossiers of the Workshop on Tamil Cinema (1997) and Workshop on Telugu Cinema (1999) for a range of writings on the subject. Much writing on 'purpose' was framed around the film form: whether or not the time had come for the mythological to give way to the social.

(8) Telugu films do not usually have official English titles. I have translated film titles to give some sense of their meaning.

(9) Theodore Baskaran points out that the film escaped the colonial censors only because Congress controlled the provincial government in Madras Presidency.

(10) This process of naming, mobilizing and ultimately incorporating different population groups into the nation-in-formation (or the nascent nation, as the case might be) is the hallmark of the form that Ashish Rajadhyaksha calls 'epic melodrama' assembled across the Indian film industries from 1930s to 1950s. Rajadhyaksha suggests that the form was the foundation on which film industries were built in India. ("The Epic Melodrama")

(11) The 'folklore film' was very popular in Telugu between the 1940s and the late 1960s and played an important role in the careers of both Nageswara Rao and NTR. Folklore films sometimes drew on popular plays or fantasies and romances already in print. They were also produced from stories generated by the film industry itself. Strictly speaking then, the folklore film has very little to do with 'folk tales' which are supposedly timeless, of indigenous origin and transmitted orally. Rajadhyaksha and Willemen point out the genre was strongly influenced by Hollywood's orientalist fantasies as well as the Douglas Fairbanks-style stunt films.

(12) Prasad points out that in the seventies vehicles of the Hindi superstar Amitabh Bachchan, there is an elaborately worked out process of nomination of the Bachchan character as saviour/agent of the people by characters who obviously stand in for the "common man." This, Prasad suggests, is one of the signs of the aesthetic of mobilization at work. Prasad himself makes the link between the Bachchan vehicles and the films of M.G. Ramachandran and NTR (138-159). I would like to extend Prasad's argument by suggesting that the story might in fact have begun with Patala Bhairavi.

(13) According to Pandurangarao eighty people received injuries in the cane-charge by the police (40).

(14) In such analyses we witness the positing of what Christian Metz would call the credulous spectator (72), who doesn't quite know that films are fictional. For Metz the credulous person is a part of us in spite of the tendency to actualize this entity by projecting him/her into various categories of 'real' people (children, women, peasants, etc).

(15) For an interesting argument on nativity in recent times see Kaali. Nativity also figures in some of the essays in Sastry, in particular Kannala, "The Ebb and Flow of the Tide."

(16) I am drawing on Lisa Mitchell's distinction between speaking/writing Telugu and being Telugu. She traces the origins of this distinction to Telugu literary criticism of the late 19th century.

(17) It is not NTR starrers alone that contained the odd references to a star's earlier films in this period. In Iddaru Mitrulu (Adurthi Subba Rao, 1961) featuring Akkineni Nageswara Rao, there is a mention of Keelugurram, which is a well known early hit of the star. In this film the 'keelugurram' or mechanical horse in question is a car that the Nageswara Rao character is attempting to repair.

(18) The following interpretation is illustrative: "He [MGR] fell out with the DMK chief Karunanidhi and used the DMK's propaganda idiom against the DMK itself in Nam Nadu (1969). In 1972 he set up the rival Anna--DMK party claiming allegiance to the DMK's founder, the late Annadurai" (http:/ /, visited on 22nd June 2004).

(19) The climax of Naa Desam/My Country (K. Bapaiah, 1983) shows NTR parading the villains of the streets with a large number of people participating in the spectacle.

(20) The performative aspect was no doubt enhanced by the massive campaign by the Eenadu newspaper whose reporters followed NTR on his campaign trail and represented every action, including mundane ones like his bath and breakfast at roadside ponds and eateries as significant actions, worthy of detailed reportage and photographic representation. After NTR was elected the opposition began calling him 'Drama Rao.'

(21) From 1994, when I began speaking to film distributors and exhibitors as a part of my research, I have been struck by the perception of this segment of the industry that it is not Hollywood but Telugu cable and satellite television that is perceived as its number one competitor and threat. More recently Chiranjeevi has denied that television was a threat to the cinema and likened television and films to 'two eyes of [the] entertainment [industry].' The Hindu, 19th May, 2005, http:/ / 5190305.htm. Visited on 20th May 2005.

(22) According to Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce (1981:131) there were 1,904 cinemas in Andhra Pradesh in 1980. A.P. Film Diary 1995 lists a total of 3,080 cinemas. They declined to 2,763 in 2000 according to Screen Weekly (4th August 2000).
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Date:Jun 22, 2006
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