Politics and films are intertwined in Andhra Pradesh and ever since legendary actor N. T. Rama Rao floated Telugu Desam Party (TDP) four decades ago, the politics had never been devoid of glamour quotient.
However, no one came closer to NTR, who dominated the state politics till his demise in 1996. Worshipped as a demigod by people in the then undivided Andhra Pradesh, the thespian became the chief minister for three terms.
Andhra Pradesh, which contributes almost the entire cream of the Telugu film industry, is a film crazy state. However, Telangana, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh as a separate state in 2014, presents a different picture.
After NTR his two actor sons tried their luck in politics to carry forward his legacy and other famous Tollywood family of superstar Chiranjeevi also forayed into politics, none of them could even come closer to the TDP founder, who had redefined the politics.
While many actors, including contemporaries of NTR, campaigned for different parties and contested elections, no one could become a factor to influence politics across the state.
“Andhra Pradesh is more cinema crazy. There is an added element of caste. Parties and actors get public support along caste lines,” pointed out political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
NTR belonged to the Kamma caste and TDP is still seen by many as a party of Kammas. The powerful caste dominated politics for over two decades in the united and later in new Andhra Pradesh.
Chiranjeevi’s family comes from the Kapu community. It may be recalled that Chiranjeevi, whose mass popularity was often compared with that of late NTR, had launched Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) amid much fanfare in 2008.
Chiranjeevi, who is popular in Tollywood as a megastar, was joined by his brothers Pawan Kalyan and Nagababu, brother-in-law and leading producer Allu Arvind in the campaign. However, the elections proved a disaster for Chiranjeevi as the PRP could win just 18 seats in the 294-member Assembly and drew a blank in the Lok Sabha.
Chiranjeevi himself tasted defeat in one of the two seats he contested. The superstar merged his party with the Congress in 2011 and became a minister at the Centre after he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the Congress party’s humiliating defeat in 2014 elections brought an abrupt end to Chiranjeevi’s political career.
Pawan Kalyan, who had floated Jana Sena Party (JSP), did not contest 2014 polls but backed TDP-BJP combine.
After distancing from both TDP and BJP, he joined hands with the Left parties and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to contest the 2019 elections.
However, his electoral debut proved more disastrous than that of his elder brother. JSP secured just one seat in the 175-member Assembly with Pawan himself losing from both the seats he contested.
Pawan Kalyan later revived his alliance with the BJP. A bitter critic of Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, he is now trying to forge a grand alliance with the TDP to defeat YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in the elections scheduled to be held next year.
Despite the 2019 debacle, Pawan Kalyan, has refused to give up. The 51-year-old has made it clear that he is into politics for a long battle.
NTR had named his fourth son N. Balakrishna, a popular Tollywood actor, as his political heir. However, after NTR’s sudden death in 1996 a few months after his son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu unseated him from power, the latter emerged as political successor.
Balakrishna, who like other children of NTR had backed Naidu in the revolt, entered active politics in 2014. Balaiah, as Balakrishna is popularly known, was elected to the Assembly from Hindupur, which was represented by his legendary father. He retained the seat in 2019.
Balaiah, 63, is happy playing second fiddle to Naidu. He is also father-in-law of Nara Lokesh, the only son of Chandrababu Naidu.
He will be happy to see his son-in-law succeeding Naidu, who has already announced that 2024 elections will be the last poll of his political career.
Jr NTR, one of the top actors of Tollywood, is seen by many as someone who can carry forward the political legacy of his grandfather.
He had briefly campaigned for TDP in 2009. However, his campaign was cut short after he was injured in a road accident. Since then, he has stayed away from politics.
The young actor is the son of Harikrishna, one of the sons of NTR. Harikrishna, who wanted to see his son take over reins of the party, died in a road accident in 2018.
Jr NTR, who turned 40 in May, is rated as the most successful actor from the NTR clan after his grandfather and uncle Balakrishna.
Another Tollywood dynasty is of veteran actor Mohan Babu. An ardent admirer of NTR, he was associated with TDP since its inception in 1982. In 1995, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. In 2019, Mohan Babu joined YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and campaigned for the party.
Eminent film producer Daggubati Ramanaidu was associated with the TDP. He was elected to Lok Sabha from Bapatla constituency in 1999.
Ramanaidu’s elder son D. Suresh Babu is a well-known producer while younger son Venkatesh is one of the leading actors. Suresh Babu’s son Rana Daggubati (of Baahubali fame) is a popular actor. However, Ramanaidu’s family members stayed away from politics.
The family of thespian Akkineni Nageswara Rao, a contemporary of NTR, also kept itself away from politics. ANR, as he was popularly known, passed away in 2014 at the age of 90. His son Nagarjuna is a leading actor of Tollywood.
Nagarjuna has one son, actor Naga Chaitanya, from his first wife Lakshmi Daggubati, sister of actor Venkatesh. After divorcing Lakshmi, Nagarjuna married actress Amala and the couple have one son Akhil, who is also an actor.
In 2014, Nagarjuna had endorsed Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Ministership. The actor, however, ruled out joining politics.
Superstar Krishna, who passed away last year, also had a brief stint in politics. Hailing from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Krishna was considered close to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He joined the Congress party in 1984 and was a critic of legendary actor N. T. Rama Rao and his TDP.
Krishna was elected to Lok Sabha from Eluru in 1989 but lost the election in 1991 from the same constituency. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Krishna distanced himself from politics.
Krishna’s son Mahesh Babu is one the top actors of Tollywood but he has made clear that he has no intentions to join politics.
Veteran actor Krishnam Raju, who passed away last year at the age of 83, had entered politics in 1991 by joining Congress. He later joined BJP and was elected to Lok Sabha from Kakinada in 1998.
He was re-elected to Lok Sabha in 1999 and was made minister of state for external affairs in Vajpayee government. He had joined PRP floated by Chiranjeevi but lost the Lok Sabha election to Rajahmundry. In 2014, just before elections he re-joined BJP. Popular actor Prabhas, of Baahubali fame, is nephew of Krishnam Raju.
Unlike in Andhra Pradesh, film personalities have never been a factor in Telangana. “NTR also became a factor in Telangana mainly because he worked for political empowerment of backward classes and scrapped patel/patwari system,” said analyst Raghavendra Reddy.
Currently, Vijayashanthi is the only film personality active in Telangana politics.
Once popular as ‘Lady Amitabh’ for her action roles, Vijayashanti had joined the BJP in 1997. She later floated Talli Telangana to fight for separate statehood for Telangana. After merging Talli Telangana with TRS (now BRS), she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Medak in 2009.
She later joined the Congress party and unsuccessfully contested from the Medak Assembly constituency in the 2014 polls.
After lying low for four years, Vijayashanti again became active in Congress in 2017 and was named its star campaigner for the party in 2018 Assembly polls. After the party’s debacle, she was not active in the party and returned to BJP in 2020.
Actor and former MLA Jayasudha joined last month. The actress, who played leading roles in many films in 1970s and 1980s, had joined politics at the invitation of Congress leader and then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy in 2009.
She was elected to Andhra Pradesh Assembly from Secunderabad constituency in 2009. She, however, could not retain the seat in the 2014 elections.
She had quit the Congress to join the TDP in 2016 but remained largely inactive in it.
In 2019, she along with her son Nihar Kapoor had joined YSR Congress Party.