Election fever for Tamil Nadu film star lookalikes

MGR lookalike The film-star lookalikes accompany candidates to their constituencies

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There is always work for film star lookalikes in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. But in a state where politics and show business are intertwined, demand for their services massively increases during election season.

The heart-throbs of Tamil Nadu's booming film industry don't just sell films; some campaigners in Tamil Nadu firmly believe they help shift votes.

That is because in this southern state nostalgia is a powerful force.

During the campaigning season lookalikes of the late M G Ramachandran (popularly known as MGR), a film star and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), can be seen on the election trail.

Vijayakanth, a notable Tamil actor and now the leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), also has a doppelganger campaigning for candidates.

Singing at rallies
MGR lookalike The real MGR died in 1987, but he still has many lookalikes who are very popular

"I have already been booked by five people,'' Mr Thyagarajan, 59, a lookalike for MGR, told BBC Hindi.

"It's election time so once campaigning picks up, the demand for our presence also goes up,'' says Tand Kumar, 42, a lookalike for Vijayakanth.

Invariably their work involves accompanying candidates to their constituencies.

"I stand beside the candidates when they go in their open jeep. I wear the red tie that MGR, invariably, wore. I wear the dark glasses that MGR always wore. I wave at the crowd that gathers. If people come and shake hands with me, it means that I have made my presence felt,'' Mr Thyagarajan says.

Both are also professional singers and Mr Thyagarajan says he "belt[s] out popular songs... at political rallies".

The men are managed by Satish Kumar, whose company Every Second provides lookalikes to candidates.

"As the demand increases during elections, we provide not just Thyagarajan but others too. We have three MGRs,'' said Satish Kumar.

Mr Kumar said his company also had lookalikes of major politicians such as Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the DMK chief, as well as Jayaram Jayalalitha, the AIADMK leader and current chief minister.

Election performers

The demand and their rates differ. They take part in live music shows and even perform at weddings.

"I used to earn 2,000 to 3,000 rupees ($33-50; £20-30) per appearance. Because of television shows, the rates have gone up. Nowadays, we earn about 5,000 rupees for a 09:00-18:30 canvassing event," said Mr Thyagarajan.

For both of these mimics, careers began in their living rooms as children. They decided to go professional and have been doing this work for the best part of two decades.

MGR died in 1987 and as Vijayakanth leads a powerful political alliance he has little time for entertaining.

But their legacy as entertainers-turned-politicians, adored by the Tamil masses, is now being exploited by candidates on the election trail.

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