'Memes are influencing votes'
...says JK Rithesh, who makes a comeback to Tamil cinema with his role as a politician in RJ Balaji's LKG
Actor-politician JK Rithesh has returned to Tamil cinema almost after a decade with the RJ Balaji-starrer LKG. His role as politician Ramaraj Pandian has evoked positive responses from critics and audiences alike. However, he doesn't quite consider this to be a ‘comeback’. "I said yes to LKG only because its producer Isari Ganesh is a close friend. I am not sure if this is the start of my second innings in films," says Rithesh, who credits Balaji's interest in social causes as a reason for accepting the role.
Excerpts from the conversation:
At an event, you compared your role in LKG to that of Assault Sethu from Jigarthanda. What’s the connection?
During my hiatus from acting, I was offered a lot of hero roles, but I rejected them due to other commitments. Even when I was narrated the script of LKG, I found my role in the film to have a lot of heroism. I felt this while shooting too. However, at the press meet, producer Ganesh said, 'JK Rithesh has done well as the villain'. That made me think that my role has become akin to Bobby Simha's Assault Sethu in Jigarthanda.
Balaji has said that LKG is not just a political satire. How do you see this film?
In real life, the impact of memes and social media is influencing votes. LKG is a film that looks to question this practice, and implores the audience to make an informed decision about whom to vote for. Even in politics, this mud-slinging that happens between two opposing parties is having unnecessary repercussions.
In our cinema, there is this widespread portrayal of politicians as the bad guys. Is this deterring people from joining politics?
There is no harm in showing the true colours of a bad politician, but the problem lies in misinforming the public about decent politicians. Even if you cannot say anything good about someone, don't spread wrong and demeaning information about them.
The relationship between cinema and politics is a long-standing one in the Tamil film industry, right from Arignar Anna to Kamal Haasan.
The reach of cinema means that stars are able to enter people's hearts faster. However, the type of reach that cinema stars enjoyed in the time of MGR, Kalaignar, and Amma, is different from the reach they enjoy today. Anyone can enter politics now. The only factor is that they be competent enough, and understand that cinema is quite different from politics.
You seem to have frequent run-ins with Vishal at the Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council and the Nadigar Sangam.
He is a friend, for sure. But I oppose his run at the TFPC, because you need someone who is not bound by acting and other commitments. In Nadigar Sangam, I had issues with him because of his vengeful nature. For instance, while removing Radha Ravi and Sarathkumar from the Sangam, Vishal alleged that there was Rs 6-7 crore corruption charges on them. But in the end, that number became Rs 10 lakh, and Vishal couldn't prove the charges with concrete evidence. It is very easy to call someone a bad person, but for the accused to break out of that image becomes difficult.
Now, there have been corruption charges against Vishal over the cricket matches conducted by the TFPC. I have proof of these allegations and when I questioned Vishal about the same, he expelled me from the Sangam, and I took the judicial route to be reinstated. In TFPC, there are already allegations of mismanagement against him. I advised him to avoid conducting the Ilaiyaraaja 75 function because it wouldn't help the council monetarily, and true to that, after paying the legendary composer, the singers, accommodation charges and other overhead expenses, all that remained after the event was a sum of Rs 10 lakh. Much of my anger is against his management style.
Another issue seems to be the difficulty concerning management of film releases.
Everything can be tackled; there is nothing that cannot be done. But it is not happening. For instance, Vishal had earlier said that big movies should not release in more than 250 screens. However, his own film, distributed by Lyca Productions, released in over 400 screens. That's why people like Vishal, who have a number of personal commitments, should not helm the council.
While Rajini asks students not to get involved in politics, Kamal urges everyone to be politically aware at all times. What is your stance?
Rajini sir has asked students to stay away from politics, but not be unaware of the same. There needs to be a marked change in our education system itself. It is not right to put blinds on the students and ask them to run a race suddenly. I am very impressed with the Central government's idea of establishing the Gurukul system of education. Everyone should learn everything, and that is the only way the country will advance on the right path.