Actor Vishal Krishna seems to hold too many positions in real life: Two top posts in associations related to the film industry, and now, a shot at representing a major TN Legislative Assembly constituency. Even as his candidature is rejected by the Election Commission and he sits in ‘dharna’, Vishal’s image as that of an ‘action hero’ all but threatens to spill off screen – this time, with real consequences and very real detractors.
Vishal Krishna had an old boy moustache when he debuted in Tamil cinema. Not stylish, or one that would ripple in anger, but the kind that existed just because it was a healthy identity for a brash Tamil hero. Short enough to be conspicuous but not long enough to twirl, it was when moustaches were still in vogue. The year was 2004 and almost every hero worth his salt sported one. Kamal Haasan’s Virumaandi had popularised the handlebar variety earlier in the year, and other male leads – from Srikanth and Prasanna to Vijayakanth, Ajith, Vijay and Prashanth – all had one that vaguely resembled a wild, unthreaded eyebrow. Ravi Krishna, whose 7G Rainbow Colony with Sonia Aggarwal in the lead attained questionable popularity, had a wisp of a moustache, as did Bharath in Kaadhal.
In Chellame, Vishal’s debut, the boring moustache sat well with his character – that of an Income Tax officer who uncovers stashes of cash during a raid. The movie, helmed by director Shankar’s assistant Gandhi Krishna, famously starred Girish Karnad in the role of the corrupt man whose son falls in love with Vishal’s wife (Reema Sen as Mythili). Gandhi Krishna’s earlier film, Nila Kaalam, had won its protagonist a National Award for Best Child Artiste. For Vishal and the director, the movie proved successful enough at the box office, running for around 200 days; none of Gandhi Krishna’s other films achieved that success.
Early yesterday, Vishal – now fashionably shorn of a moustache – accompanied by a retinue of men, paid his respects to late chief ministers Kamaraj, MGR, Annadurai and J Jayalalithaa. Arriving in RK Nagar a little around noon – on a motorbike – he filed his nomination for the by-polls scheduled to take place on December 21. A constituency long held by J Jayalalithaa saw the likes of TTV Dhinakaran of AIADMK (Amma) and Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece, vying for it along with others. A little while ago though, Deepa’s and Vishal’s nominations were rejected by the Election Commission; the reasons cited were discrepancies in their applications. At the time of publishing this article, the actor is protesting the cancellation of his nomination, sitting in a ‘dharna‘.
But, Vishal’s announcement wasn’t something of a surprise. In an interview to Vikatan in September, the actor wasn’t ambivalent about his political ambitions. “I’m not sure about other actors [turning politicians],” he had said, “but, let me tell you this, people will soon tire of all politicians. Freebies will not work anymore.” About his arrival in the field, Vishal went on to add – “I have been getting good film offers, and there are many social deeds that I’d like to do. I will do those. I will bring about change when the time is conducive, and work according to my capacity. But, if I can help people only by coming power, if that is considered politics, then I will enter the fray.”
His assets, declared yesterday, amounted to four luxury cars, including a BMW and a Jaguar worth Rs 1.04 crore, cash of Rs 2,45,000 and an income of Rs 4.21 crore the previous year. A debt of Rs 7.05 crore was also listed.
Vishal has been unabashedly portraying the alpha male roles in his movies. Mysskin’s Thupparivalan, which released a couple of months ago, also allowed him to flex his muscles that way. For a film that drew heavily on Sherlock Holmes, it was unapologetically pulpy, with a female co-star whose character was conveniently meek. In 13 years, Vishal has been part of around 20 movies as lead and played a role in Mohanlal-starrer Villian (Malayalam). He won the coveted posts of Nadigar Sangam General Secretary and Tamil Film Producers Council President – and has, by now, amassed a wealth of followers in the industry – young and old. In October 2015, Vishal, along with his Pandavar Ani supported by Nasser and Karthi, emerged victorious in the Nadigar Sangam elections. In April this year, after a war of words and a legal battle, the top position in the Tamil Film Producers’ Council, was his too. The conflict of interest, in leading two organisations that sought to support their own members, was immediately apparent to everyone, not just his detractors. Addressing it, the actor had said that if anything, he would be in “a better position” to address such conflicts, and went on to promise a piracy-free State, among many things.
Along the way, Vishal has also been tactful enough to associate himself with causes outside of films. From Jallikattu to GST, he has been documenting his views and actions. A video clip that some regional television channels are fond of playing sees him distributing rings and clothes to babies and the elderly at a government hospital on his birthday. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, daughter of actor Sarathkumar, who has been a vehement opponent of Vishal, is seen handing out the parcels.
In the wake of his participation in the by-polls, spokespersons from political parties remain largely hostile or unreceptive; DMK’s Working President MK Stalin is perhaps the only politician who seems to have been diplomatic in his response. “Anyone who can vote can contest in elections,” he says in a video clip; BJP MP Tamilisai Soundararajan is at her derogatory best: “The actors think it [politics] is like releasing a movie.”
Radha Ravi, one of Vishal’s detractors, calls him “arputhamana criminal” [a wonderful criminal] in an interview. “Any leader needs to be diplomatic,” he says, adding, “Vishal spoke against Anbu Chezhian when Ashok Kumar died, but who financed his Marudhu?” Radha Ravi then proceeds to sneer through the 18-minute interview, occasionally slipping into the singular.
Other voices of dissent include director Cheran and producer Suresh Kamatchi. Questioning the potential conflict of interest that would arise if the by-polls go his way, Kamatchi asks on a debate show on Cauvery News, “We haven’t been getting any maaniyam [subsidy] for eight years; but now, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy has agreed to provide us some. The TFPC and the government need to go hand in hand, but if Vishal is contesting in the polls, it may affect the Government’s decision to back us.” Kamatchi further adds that actor Vijayakanth had resigned from the Nadigar Sangam when he entered politics. “Vishal had earlier said something similar about Sarath Kumar and Radha Ravi; that they need to give up their positions in the Nadigar Sangam as they are in politics. Why isn’t Vishal doing that himself?”
Director Cheran, speaking at a press meet yesterday, had put forth similar demands, “as Alagappan and Rama Narayanan, former chiefs of the TFPC, had resigned from their posts when the parties they supported were no longer in power”.
Vishal hit back at Cheran in a press release released today. “There is no law that the one in charge of a union should not stand in the election,” he wrote, “This is my personal decision. Cheran’s argument cannot be accepted. I see that the government will blame the Producers Council for the sake of contesting the election as a charge against democracy. Cheran’s argument is like spurning today and former governments and former union executives.”
Meanwhile, on the show, Suresh Kamatchi adds, “Vishal hasn’t fulfilled his promises in the eight months that he has been TFPC President. He didn’t even call for a general body meeting until now. Also, when Ashok Kumar died, Vishal said he wouldn’t spare the person who was behind his death – any MLA or minister. What would MLAs and ministers do about a loan that wasn’t repaid?”
What is valiant about shouting down the Government, Kamatchi bellows at the moderator. “When producer Rama Narayanan was heading us, he had struck a rapport with the ruling party; he would meet the Chief Minister with our korikkai [request] and it would be immediately fulfilled.”
Something that hasn’t gone unnoticed is Vishal’s chosen symbol – a whistle. Kamal Haasan had announced an app, Maiyam Whistle, on his birthday. Also, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whom Kamal Haasan met earlier this year, tweeted his support for Vishal. Says Kamatchi, “In his movies, Kamal usually takes care of the direction and all the work behind the scenes, but lets someone else take credit. I think he is behind Vishal; Kamal is testing the waters through him – their association is bound to come out sooner or later.”
Kamatchi also remarks on Vishal’s ‘social service’ app – V Shall – which, when launched a month ago, aimed to bridge the gap between those who needed help, and those who could provide it. “I looked for the app on Google Play,” he says, “but I couldn’t find it.”