While the rest of India is discussing the Bihar elections, we in Tamil Nadu, who always have our priorities right, are debating the all-important polls to the Nadigar Sangam (Nadigar Sangam in English), which is widely accepted as the apex body of actors due to two facts 1) its words are taken as final in industry-related issues. 2) There is no other actors’ union.
The run up to the Nadigar Sangam polls has been quite eventful with the two camps, one led by the incumbent president Sarath Kumar and the other by the challenger Vishal, going at each other with a vehemence that would make Indo-Pak cricket clashes in Sharjah seem as some kind of artificially staged fights. No, wait. That sounds wrong. Or perhaps right. Never mind, the thing is the campaign has been no-holds-barred and vexatious and is bound to get worse in the coming days, which of course means that we in the media may even forget to announce the winner in the Bihar polls. Not that you in TN were keen on them anyway.
Here are the various questions on the Nadigar Sangam elections that are being asked everywhere and the answers to them that you will see nowhere.
Can you give a brief backgrounder on how and why the Nadigar Sangam was started?
Nadigar Sangam had its humble beginnings in black and white photographs, when the leading actors of entire south India (at that time Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada film industries too were headquartered in Madras) felt an umbrella organisation that they can form and pose in front of when physical facilities for it were eventually constructed would be a good idea. Otherwise, nobody knew what the Sangam was supposed to do then. To be fair, nobody knows what the Sangam is supposed to do now, too.
In the 50s, the actors bought a large swathe of land in T Nagar (at that time T Nagar was a suburb. The heart of the city comprised four streets in Mylapore and five houses in Triplicane), but as they all were busy with their shooting commitments, they couldn’t come together to get up a building for the Sangam till the 70s.
Basically being a union, the initial facilities, aimed at serving the bare necessities of committed unionists, were typically spartan: canteen, gym and auditorium.
The 80s and 90s were mostly uneventful for the Nadigar Sangam and it was after the turn of the millennium that things began to really hot up, which we will explain in response to the next question as this answer seems to have crammed up enough space already.
Okay, what happened in the 2000s?
Being a service-oriented organisation, whose members, among others, were stars paid in crores and crores of rupees, the Sangam grew from strength to strength and built for itself — Kollywood plot twist ahead — debts in crores of rupees. Seriously, how a welfare union could run up debts is beyond logic. But it sure did. However, ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth, who was helming the union at that time, had a smart brainwave: To raise funds from the cash-rich NRIs by capturing them and threatening to screen Narasimha for three consecutive days. Sure, that would have worked wonders. But he actually organized smart star shows in places like Singapore and Malaysia and raised money to pay off the banks.
What are the achievements of Nadigar Sangam so far?
It has spearheaded many fasts and protests on issues concerning the film industry, like Cauvery and Sri Lankan Tamils. On issues like the arbitrariness in waiving entertainment tax to films or threat to freedom of expression, the Sangam has quite rightly felt that since it is a political matter involving governments, it better remain silent.
Now, tell us something about Sarath vs. Vishal fight?
After Vijayakanth quit the post, Sarath Kumar made it to the top as he had that one quality that is common to all union leaders: He was mostly workless.
Sarath, who has been the president of the Nadigar Sangam for the past nine years, is opposed to Vishal in the elections because — talk of nuance — Vishal wants elections. Whereas Sarath is all for elections where there won’t be any election as such. Or at least that is what it seems, as Sarath camp keeps telling the Vishal group, ‘why can’t we just sit and talk and sort out the issues? Why have these polls and spoil the democracy in the industry?’ Seems most reasonable.
Vishal and team, on the other hand, is contesting the elections on the powerful plank of change, which we all know is an euphemism for, well, we don’t know because we have never seen change anywhere anytime.
But Sarath and co can still win on sympathy factor.
Sympathy? What for?
Sympathy for the fact that they have Simbu on their side.
Whom are Kamal and Rajni supporting?
Kamal is seen to be backing Vishal group as he has proposed Nasser’s name for the post of president. But since it’s Kamal, nobody, which includes Kamal as well, will say anything for certain. Rajni’s position is like the story of Lingaa: We have to basically keep guessing.
What is the first task facing the new Sangam team?
Whoever wins, he has the responsibility to get down to work immediately and find out who won the Bihar elections. Because there is no way of knowing it from the papers for the next two weeks.