Politics as Performance: A Social History of the Telugu Cinema traces the fifty-year history of Telugu cinema, as an industry and cultural form. It shows how films are directly implicated in the rise to prominence of an elite which continues to dominate parts of the country to this day and the emergence of a new idiom of mass politics.
The book examines in detail the career of Andhra Pradesh’s best known film star, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) to show how Telugu cinema re-defined notions of linguistic identity and community for a non-literate public to create complex and multiple linkages between the consumption of cultural commodities and political mobilization. It analyses in detail NTR’s remarkable election campaign in the 1982-83 and revisits the “decline of Congress” thesis to draw attention to the larger transformation of electoral mobilisation with the convergence of film, newspaper and the audio cassette on the career of a performer who carried over his acting style from the screen to the election platform.
The book concludes with a discussion of the lasting legacies of NTR in the more recent past, when film had already yielded its pride of place to television, the future of Andhra Pradesh was uncertain and the institution of the star-politician itself appeared to be on the wane.