Chandrababu Naidu’s tryst with Telugu tinsel town: Film personalities remain servile to TDP

A look at TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu’s political life shows how it was constantly intertwined with the moviedom

Chandrababu Naidu’s tryst with Telugu tinsel town: Film personalities remain servile to TDP

HYDERABAD: Are films and anything to do with the tinsel town the biggest lifeline for Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu? The diehard followers of the TDP may dismiss this theory with contempt but the premonition came to the fore, for the umpteenth time, in the recent grand show put up by the Nandamuri clan and Chandrababu Naidu using the facade of NTR’s birth centenary celebrations in Vijayawada.

Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth was the quintessential showstopper at this spectacle where the ‘Thalaiva’ unabashedly waxed eloquent about the legendary Telugu actor. Ironically, it was the same NTR against whom the infamous August coup was pulled off by Chandrababu Naidu and Rajinikanth too played his part in it more than two decades ago. Thanks to their diligent team work, the patriarch of the TDP was reduced to a ‘pariah’ within no time then.

Coming back to the recent NTR birth centenary, Chandrababu Naidu’s deft move in roping in Rajinikanth for the event stirred up a few conspiracy theories. Some interpreted it as a ploy aimed at keeping Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan under check to say that the heavy reliance on the firepower of the Power Star should not be construed as the TDP chief’s weakness. Pawan Kalyan’s two-timing with both the TDP and the BJP at the same time was projected as the possible grouse for this move. But Chandrababu Naidu was seen closeted with Pawan Kalyan the very next day, as if to dispel these insinuations and play the balancing act to keep the actor-turned-politician firmly in his grasp.

Setting aside the conjecture, one thing that became evident from the centenary celebrations was that, even in his twilight, after 40 years of intense politicking, Chandrababu Naidu is still craving for filmy firepower to prolong his longevity in his trade. A look at the TDP chief’s political life shows how it was constantly intertwined with the moviedom. The players, who came in handy, may have changed with the changing seasons but not his penchant to leverage the film world to keep him afloat in politics.

This trait dates as far back as 1978 when he was a minister in T Anjaiah’s cabinet. As destiny would script it, as the youngest minister at the age of 28, he held the portfolio of cinematography in the Congress party government in Andhra Pradesh. By then, he was already married to Bhuvaneswari, thus becoming the son-in-law of a towering personality of the tinseltown. (That NTR grudgingly described his ‘alludu’ as ‘jaamaatha dasama graham’ many years later after Chandrababu Naidu grabbed his party only makes for a curious piece of trivia here.)

Right from sneaking into the TDP through the backdoor and then growing up the ranks while surviving under the shadows of his more charismatic father-in-law, Naidu was always known to have displayed his canny knack of fostering a close rapport with film personalities who were originally gravitated to NTR. When NTR was shunted out of the party post the August coup in 1995, the world saw how the TDP-leaning ‘whose who’ of the Telugu film industry stood by Naidu even if it meant ditching the matinee idol they adored all their life.

From director K Raghavendra Rao to producers Ashwini Dutt and Rama Naidu and Mohan Babu (until he fell apart), Jayaprada, Murali Mohan to Kaikala Satyanarayana, comedians Babu Mohan, Ali and Venu Madhav, to name a few, Chandrababu Naidu always managed to ensure the presence of star power to propel the TDP’s popularity in his quest for that extra edge over arch rivals. The craving for this kind of magnetic pull has been an add-on to the filmy advantage he always enjoyed from within the family in the form of Balakrishna and Harikrishna, until the latter was quietly eased out of prominence within the party.

How can anyone gloss over Rajinikanth who played a quiet but smart role in adding a cosmetic touch of sanctity to Chandranaidu’s betrayal of NTR in 1995? Air-dashing to Hyderabad from Chennai, within hours of NTR’s ouster from power on the fateful day of August 23, 1995, Rajinikanth not only famously described NTR’s second wife Lakshmi Parvathi as ‘dushta shakti’ but even blamed her as the root-cause for all the upheaval within the TDP. By no stretch of imagination, Rajinikanth proved to be a timely tool for Chandrababu Naidu to successfully deflect the anticipated public anger against the coup towards Lakshmi Parvathi. The tactic was such a game-changer that the widow of NTR continues to gulp down the blame and endure the ignominy even till now.

Chandrababu Naidu has always been busy talent-scouting from the film industry in search of an ideal piggyback for his political rides. It was this very compulsion that saw the TDP chief pamper Jr NTR, who was till then treated as an outcast within the Nandamuri family. Faced with the uphill task of beating a well-entrenched YS Rajasekhara Reddy in power, Chandrababu Naidu used the young Tollywood hero to campaign for the TDP before the 2009 elections.

It is believed that even the emergence of Power Star Pawan Kalyan and his Jana Sena in Andhra Pradesh politics post-bifurcation is also premised on the political requirements of Chandrababu Naidu and his TDP. How far Pawan Kalyan was able to build his Jana Sena in the last nine years of its existence is still a point for intense debate. But neither Pawan Kalyan nor his party was able to rid themselves of the blame that they are only fighting Chandrababu Naidu’s cause. If this is to be taken as Gospel truth, then, no other leader than Chandrababu Naidu or his TDP has been able to exploit the Jana Sena factor to the hilt and to their own advantage.

Staring at a huge mountain to climb in 2024, Chandrababu Naidu has once again played his old trump card in Rajinikanth, perhaps to repeat what the latter did for him soon after the 1995 August coup. That is, to inject and embed a perception in the minds of the electorate, regardless of the ground reality, to project Chandrababu Naidu as their only hope for the future. Seeing things from this prism of presumptions, the Tamil Superstar hardly sounded surprising at the NTR birth centenary event when he sang praises of Chandrababu Naidu as the ‘architect of Hyderabad’ and as the sole reason for what it is today.

The ‘Thalaiva’ expressing his desire to see Chandrababu Naidu back in the saddle in Andhra Pradesh has certainly evoked derisive jeers from the ruling YSRCP. But will the Rajini experiment once again cut ice with the Telugu masses and with the same impact, just like it did in demonising Lakshmi Parvathi as a ‘dushta sakshi’ is a riddle that will have its answers only after the 2024 elections.

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