In film-crazy Andhra Pradesh, which has now been divided into two states, actors are worshipped like demigods and political parties and their candidates bank on them to swing votes. And the simultaneous polls to the state assembly and the Lok Sabha will be no different.
Politics in Andhra Pradesh never lacked the glamour quotient ever since the legendary actor NTR floated the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) three decades ago. With the campaigning for April 30 and May 7 polls picking up, more and more stars from Tollywood, as the Telugu film industry is also known, are taking a plunge, setting the stage for a fierce battle among the top stars.
Like the other politicians, the actors and actresses have also switched their loyalties since the 2009 elections. The bifurcation of the state is also having an impact with the campaigning by the stars largely focussing on Seemandhra or residuary Andhra Pradesh, which contributes almost the entire cream of Tollywood.
Popular actor Pawan Kalyan's new political party Jana Sena has added a new player in the state politics and his support to BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is expected to bolster the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the last elections, he was a key campaigner for Praja Rajyam Party (PRP), which his eldest and most famous brother K. Chiranjeevi had launched amid much fanfare in 2008.
The poll disaster forced Chiranjeevi to wind up PRP and merge with the Congress in 2010. Unhappy with this, Pawan has now come out with a new party and vowed to bury the Congress. On the other hand, Chiranjeevi, who is popular as megastar, is leading the Congress campaign in Seemandhra. Like a Telugu potboiler, the stage is set for a war between brothers.
Following on Pawan's footsteps, Nagarjuna also flew to Ahmedabad to extend support to Modi. Though Nagarjuna has ruled out joining politics, the BJP is trying to cash in on the star's support to Modi.
Veteran actor Mohan Babu, a former TDP leader and member of the Rajya Sabha, is also planning to join the BJP. Mohan Babu is said to be aspiring for a ticket for the Lok Sabha election.
U.V. Krishnam Raju, another veteran actor, has also returned to the BJP after failing to win the Lok Sabha election on the PRP ticket in the last elections. Popularly known as 'rebel star', Raju is a two-time MP and served as minister of state in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
If BJP's poll alliance with TDP materializes, the formation will have the backing of almost all the big stars. The TDP already has the support of N. Balakrishna, son of TDP founder. Popularly known as Balaiah, the brother-in-law of party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, will campaign for the party. The actor, whose daughter is also married to Naidu's son Lokesh, is also planning to contest for assembly or Lok Sabha.
Despite strained relations between Naidu and his brother-in-law N. Harikrishna, the latter's actor son Junior NTR has not ruled out campaigning for the TDP.
A road accident had forced Junior NTR to cut short his campaign for the TDP in the 2009 elections, which saw the Congress retaining power in the state. Till then NTR's grandson had proved a big hit among masses.
TDP is also backed by veteran actor M. Murali Mohan, who had unsuccessfully contested for the Lok Sabha in the last elections. Popular comedian Ali is also an aspirant for the TDP ticket to contest for the assembly.
In Telangana, actresses of yesteryears Vijayashanti and Jayasudha are the only glamour faces for the Congress. Vijayashanti is likely to seek re-election to the Medak Lok Sabha seat. She was elected in 2009 on the ticket of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). Jayasudha plans to seek re-election to the assembly from Secunderabad.
Though many Tollywood actors have tried, none came closer to Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao aka NTR, who created a record by coming to power within nine months after launching the TDP in 1982.
The thespian died in 1996, a few months after he was unseated by his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu.