‘Vyuham’, ‘Yatra-2’, and ‘Rajadhani Files’: How cinemas influence Andhra voters ahead of upcoming elections

Political parties are banking on cinemas to promote their ideologies and messages since they can establish an instant connect with the masses.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Feb 18, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedFeb 18, 2024 | 2:52 PM

Vyuham, Yatra-2, Rajadhani files.

Kissa Kursi Ka was the most controversial Bollywood film that was never released. The 1977 movie was a spoof on Sanjay Gandhi and Maruti Udyog Limited, and it was the first film in independent India in which the tinsel world merged with the political landscape.

Though Amrit Nahata later reshot the movie — after the film was destroyed — with the once Playboy bunny Katy Mirza replacing Shabana Azmi, it did not do well at the box office. However, it was a notable work that later encouraged many filmmakers to develop real political messages — overtly and covertly.

As part of the mass media, cinema can shape beliefs and values and even blur the thin line between reality and imagination. Psychologists call it ‘Groupthink’. It occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives.

Groupthink is mostly based on a common refrain not to upset the group’s balance.

Of late, filmmakers, with the apparent tacit support of politicians, have been churning out movies to influence the electorate and inject specific political ideologies into their psyche.

Often, politicians endorse such movies, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who supported The Kerala Story before the May 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka.

Cinemas like Yatra-1, portraying the rise and sudden demise of the late Congress chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, NTR: Mahanayakudu, depicting the life of NT Rama Rao from films to politics and a coup from a family perspective, and its counter film Ram Gopal Varma’s Lakshmi’s NTR, illustrating NTR’s death and the family coup against him, were all released in February and March 2019, ahead of the April elections.

With the drumbeats of the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections getting closer and louder, such films are making a comeback to the Telugu tinsel screen.

Also Read: YSRCP, BJP, TDP or Congress – YSR or NTR families are Andhra’s only choices

String of poll-focused films

A clutch of films has hit the theatres ahead of the April/May elections. Yatra-2, featuring Malayalam superstar Mammootty, explores the political journey of YS Rajasekhar Reddy and his successor and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. It was released on 8 February.

Rajadhani Files, a film addressing the contentious three-capital issue being promoted by Jagan, was scheduled for release on 15 February but was temporarily halted by a High Court order after a Guntur district YSRCP leader, Lella Appi Reddy, challenged it. However, the high court eventually gave its nod for the release. It hit the theatres on Friday, 16 February.

Another film, Vyuham, directed by Ram Gopal Varma, focuses on the political events that unfolded in Andhra Pradesh after the sudden demise of Rajasekhara Reddy in 2009. The film is set for release on 23 February after overcoming legal challenges posed by TDP’s Nara Lokesh.

All these movies have their set of de facto promoters. The YSRCP leaders are supporting Yatra-2 on social media, while the Opposition TDP is rooting for Rajadhani Files.

Also Read: Miffed over TDP alliance move, BJP Andhra district chiefs hope to get their pound of flesh from tripartite tie-up

Politically loaded

Tollywood is not the only industry churning out movies with specific political agendas.

PM Narendra Modi (2019)starring Vivek Oberoi, The Accidental Prime Minister (2019), exploring the tenure of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister, Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019), meant to whip up patriotic feelings, The Kashmir Files (2022), tracing the exodus of the Kashmiri pandits and the preceding events, and The Kerala Story (2023), on women forced to convert, were some of them.

Incidentally, all these movies were released close to the elections. And they all conveyed a political message, leading to the groupthink phenomenon.

Although political movies had existed earlier, these recent films stood out for their controversial political narratives and polemic in nature and became a topic of discussion.

Nalin Verma, media educator, columnist, and biographer of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad, said the southern states have a strong affinity towards Hindi films. The BJP’s approach is to utilise cinema as a ‘medium’ to connect with the masses.

“Accessing information through reading a book is limited among the masses due to financial status, interests, or an uneducated background,” he told South First.

“So, films have been a popular source of entertainment for the masses, and this is how BJP’s new involvement with films, turning them into a ‘source of information’ with twisted facts, is yielding political dividends,” he added.

Dr Srinivas SV, a literature and media professor at the Azim Premji University and author of Megastar and Politics as Performance, found the increasing political campaigns through cinemas interesting since the theatres reported a drop in attendance post-Covid.

He felt that while the use of cinema as a medium existed earlier, the political films now being released have been playing a larger role in social media, television, and radio campaigns.

“With the buzz in the media reaching the audience, the theatres are being used as a space for political campaigns,” he said.

Also Read: What does an alliance with TDP mean for BJP in Andhra Pradesh?

Huge market, large audience

Among the around 8,000-10,000 screens across the country, Telugu-speaking states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana combined, have the highest number of theatres, nearly 2000 screens, implying a robust market and significant interest in movies.

Notably, Andhra Pradesh elected popular actor NT Rama Rao as the chief minister within nine months after he founded the Telugu Desam Party at 60 on 29 March 1982.

Speaking to South First, Professor Dr V Sreemannarayana Murthy, Head of the Department of Sociology at Andhra University, underscored that films undeniably impact the masses in shaping their political opinions.

He noted that the two-part YSR films — Yatra 1 and 2 — were pro-poor and pro-welfare, while Rajadhani Files advocated the development of a capital city for Andhra Pradesh, a plan halted by Jagan.

“This segmentation of the targeted audience creates opinions, either pro-poor or pro-development,” he said.

On Ram Gopal Varma exposing the alleged shallowness of Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan, the professor mentioned that it would influence the perception of the educated youth — something the YSRCP wants as he has significant clout among the youth in the Godavari region.

Murthy further explained that the awareness and buzz created by the media evoke interest among the masses, prompting them to watch the movies on any other platform later, but they certainly do not miss them.