Films, politics, propaganda: Andhra Pradesh's tryst with elections

Suresh Dharur on the surge of political films in Andhra Pradesh ahead of simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections

A poster of 'Vyooham'
A poster of 'Vyooham'

Suresh Dharur

Not all films on politics are propaganda films. Deeply political films made in the 1950s and 1960s dwelt on the rich–poor divide, patriotism and the Nehruvian vision of pacifism and nationbuilding.

Comparatively recent Hindi films like Rang De Basanti, PK and Lage Raho Munna Bhai encouraged reflection on the frustration of the youth, the sway of superstition, and the relevance of Gandhi.

Of late, however, the production of political films appears to have been both politicised and weaponised to spread right wing propaganda. Films like Emergency, Article 370, The Kashmir Files, The Kerala Story, Bastar Files, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Manikarnika and Samrat Prithviraj blatantly promote personality cults, harangue the Opposition, distort history, spread disinformation and foment hatred against entire communities.

These films are increasingly driving a particular political narrative. The links between Bollywood and the Hindu majoritarian project of the BJP are evident in The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story, two films where conscience surrendered to political interest without a fight.

Apart from raising questions of accuracy, they demonise Muslims and inflame religious tensions in an already polarised society. While the former portrayed the plight of Kashmiri Pandits fleeing a separatist insurgency that targeted them in the 1990s, the latter showed Hindu women from Kerala being coerced into converting to Islam and joining the Islamic State. Both were classic examples of peddling the Hindutva agenda through hype and hate.

Uri: The Surgical Strike glorifies a government that has milked the sacrifices of soldiers for political leverage. Revisionist historicals like Tanhaji, Manikarnika and Samrat Prithviraj hark back to mythology and India’s supposedly supremacist past. A biopic on RSS founder K.B Hedgewar is in the pipeline.

Films, politics, propaganda: Andhra Pradesh's tryst with elections

Blurring the line between films and politics

Andhra Pradesh has a long history of tinsel town and politics feeding off each other. Movies loaded with political messages are often used as tools to influence voters ahead of the elections. With simultaneous polls to the assembly and Lok Sabha round the corner, a string of movies with competing narratives are vying for public attention to inject specific political ideologies into the voters’ psyche.

Foremost among them is Vyooham (Strategy), the first of a two-part movie presenting a glorified account of the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) supremo and chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s political journey, which shows his rivals, particularly the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, as villains.

Directed by Ram Gopal Varma, Vyooham is a hagiographic political thriller with an unvarnished political agenda. After facing legal hurdles, with the Telangana High Court temporarily suspending its release, the movie finally hit the screens on 24 February. The out-and-out propaganda film focuses on the political situation that prevailed in the combined state of Andhra Pradesh in the aftermath of chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s sudden death in a helicopter crash in September 2009.

Projecting YSR’s son Jagan as an innocent victim of devious political ploys, the film portrays how the young MP from Kadapa overcomes all adversities and obstacles created by his political rivals to emerge unscathed as a popular leader who wins the hearts of the masses.

The TDP, which moved the court, alleged that the movie was defamatory to the party and its leaders, and also portrayed Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi, in a poor light. Shot back-to-back, both Vyooham and its sequel Shapatham (Pledge)—which released on 1 March—are being widely promoted by the ruling party supporters on social media platforms.

Another movie that glorifies the ruling party leadership is Yatra 2, featuring Malayalam superstar Mammootty. This is the story of YSR’s 900-mile padyatra across Andhra in 2003 that propelled him to power in the 2004 assembly elections. Yatra 2 was released on 8 February.

Raajadhani Files, on the other hand, highlights the failure of the YSRCP government to build the capital city as envisioned by the previous TDP regime. Its release was temporarily halted by a high court order after a Guntur district YSRCP leader, Lella Appi Reddy, challenged it. It was eventually released on 16 February.

The film showcases the struggle of those farmers of the Vijayawada–Guntur region who had voluntarily given their lands for building Amaravati, the brainchild of Chandrababu Naidu. The farmers have been on a warpath against the present dispensation for abandoning the Amaravati project.

Another hugely controversial film is Razakar—Silent Genocide in Hyderabad, a historical biopic set during the regime of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of erstwhile Hyderabad state. The film is produced by Gudur Narayana Reddy, a member of the Telangana BJP executive committee, who had unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections last December.

The film, released on 1 March, depicts in graphic detail the brutalities committed by the Razakars—the Nizam’s private army—on the Hindus. While political movies were made in the past as well, the recent films stand out for their crude political narratives and polemical nature.


Looking back, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, two movies—with competing narratives to suit the agenda of the respective parties—on Telugu matinee idol and former chief minister N.T. Rama Rao, had created quite a buzz.

NTR: Kathanayakudu, was a two-part biopic produced by his actor-son and the ruling TDP legislator N. Balakrishna. Balakrishna played the role of his father with Bollywood actress Vidya Balan playing NTR’s wife, the late Basava Tharakam.

Ram Gopal Varma’s Lakshmi’s NTR presented the story of the TDP founder from the perspective of his second wife, N. Lakshmi Parvathi, who is persona non grata for the present TDP dispensation. The film focused on the final stages of NTR’s life when he was tormented by the rebellion within his party led by his son-in-law.

NTR, who founded the TDP in 1982, was dethroned by Naidu in a political coup in August 1995. Heartbroken, NTR died a few months later. Nearly three decades after his death, NTR’s legacy still has political relevance and his ideals are often invoked by parties.

It was ironical that the man who founded the Telugu Desam Party, and captured power not once but thrice, was finally ousted from his own party and stripped of power in a revolt led by his son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu. NTR died a bitter man, but his legacy continues to be invoked by the present day TDP.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines