Brothers in arms to arch-rivals: What went wrong with Pawan Kalyan, Chiranjeevi

The silence of Chiranjeevi over Pawan Kalyan’s controversial criticism of the Andhra government's decision to introduce online movie tickets, is just a small display of the discontentment that has been brewing between the two brothers for years

A rift in the political disposition of both the brothers, Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan, who earlier shared the same ideas, has been discernible since the 2019 general elections.

The difference of opinion between Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi over the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to sell movie tickets online has yet again depicted them as star siblings with dissimilar political views.

At a recent pre-release function of Telugu film Republic, Pawan Kalyan, the founder of Jana Sena Party (JSP) launched a tirade against the Jagan Mohan Reddy government over its decision to sell movie tickets online. Accusing the government of introducing a government portal to sell movie tickets just to fill its empty coffers, Pawan Kalayan demanded to know why film producers owning private companies should be regulated by the government.

While a host of cabinet ministers hit back at Pawan Kalyan, the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce and actors like Mohan Babu distanced themselves from his comments. Only actors like Nani (Ghantasala Navin Babu) and Kartikeya Gummakonda seconded Pawan Kalyan’s remarks, while demanding the government to address the issue of online ticketing.

The YSR Congress government in a recently issued government order proposed to launch a portal that would enable movie watchers to book cinema tickets online. The government said the measure will ensure transparency in the ticketing process and stop undervaluation of revenue and tax evasion.

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The decision reportedly wasn’t received well by many in the Telugu film industry, but only Pawan Kalyan volunteered to speak up. Sources say, some sections in the film industry are worried that if the daily revenue collected at film theatres are deposited with the Andhra Pradesh Film Development Corporation (APFDC) in compliance with the government’s decision, it would take a lot of time for the amount to be remitted to the account of stakeholders, distributors and exhibitors. This, in turn, may impact film production as these stakeholders wouldn’t be having enough money at their disposal.

Actor Nani backed Pawan Kalyan in a tweet saying, “Keeping aside the political differences between Pawan Kalyan sir and AP Government. The film industry issues addressed are genuine and needs immediate attention. Thank you @PawanKalyan sir.

“ Not supporting or being against any political party but the issues addressed by @PawanKalyan sir with respect to Telugu Film industry totally makes sense and being part of the industry. I feel it’s my responsibility to support Pawan sir on this who spoke on behalf of all of us,” tweeted actor Karthikeya.

Chiru’s stoic silence

Intriguingly, Chiranjeevi who has a lot of clout in the industry, conspicuously maintained a stoic silence even as his brother was getting singled out for an intense attack from a battery of ministers in Jagan’s cabinet. Information and Public Relations minister Perni Veenkataramaiah at a media conference claimed that Chiranjeevi, in fact, has expressed regret over his brother’s remarks against the government, in a private discussion with him.

The Allu-Konidela family, an amalgamation of Chiranjeevi’s and his father-in-law Allu Ramalingaiah’s families, is one of the biggest families in the Telugu film industry, just like the Kapoor dynasty of Bollywood. Apart from Chiranjeevi’s brothers – actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan and Nagendra Babu, a film prominent producer – and brother-in-law Allu Arvind, also a film producer; the family has at least 10 actors including Chiranjeevi’s son Ram Charan, and his nephews Allu Arjun, Allu Sirish (sons of Allu Aravind), Varun Tej, Sai Dharam Tej and niece Niharika (children of Nagendra Babu).

Chiranjeevi (originally Konidala Sivashankar Prasad) is the eldest sibling to Nagendra Babu and Pawan Kalyan. However, unlike Allu Ramalingaiah’s family, the three brothers, sons of a constable, come from a non-filmy background, having spent their childhood in a village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Films and fame came along only after Chiranjeevi successfully debuted with Punadirallu in 1978.

Having considerable sway over the industry, it could said that the Allu-Konidela family calls the shots after the families associated with legendary thespians Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao.

Beginning of a rift

A rift in the political disposition of both the brothers, Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan, who earlier shared the same ideas, has been discernible since the 2019 general elections. Earlier, Pawan Kalyan had wholeheartedly assisted his brother in floating his political outfit Prajya Rajyam Party (PRP) and even dreamt of seeing Chiranjeevi occupy the chief minister’s position. Pawan Kalyan as the PRP’s youth wing leader vigorously campaigned for his brother across the state in the elections in 2009. But, he is said to have been disappointed when Chiranjeevi decided to merge his party with the Congress, and thus remained inactive in politics up to 2014.

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Pawan Kalyan, in alliance with the Left parties in 2019 elections, unsuccessfully took on YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy. During the high-decibel campaign, the YSR Congress chief launched a personal attack against Pawan Kalyan saying that the actor changes his wives like cars. Jagan’s outburst was a direct reference to Pawan Kalyan’s three marriages. After divorce from Nandini and Renu Desai, the actor married a Russian national Anna Lezhneva who he met in 2011 while shooting for his film Teen Maar. Jagan’s grudging attacks were ascribed to Pawan’s alleged tie up with his rival Chandrababu Naidu.

A divided house

Chiranjeevi stayed away from his brother’s election campaign in 2019. Instead, the mega star and his wife Surekha personally called on Jagan to congratulate him on his elevation as the Chief Minister and even dined with him at his Tadepalli bungalow. The bonhomie fuelled speculations over the prospects of Jagan sending the mega star to Raja Sabha.

Even during the UPA-II regime, Chiranjeevi and Pawan remained a divided house. When Chiranjeevi was appointed as the Minister for Tourism in the UPA government in return for merging his party with the Congress, Kalyan was critical of the way the Centre presided over Andhra Pradesh’s bifurcation (in 2014). Chiranjeevi, though enjoyed power in the UPA, kept himself away from the Congress during the electioneering in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But Pawan Kalyan joined hands with the NDA, headed by Narendra Modi, and actively worked for the defeat of the Congress in the election. Modi and Naidu eventually came to power at the Centre and the state respectively.

Chiranjeevi’s proximity with YS family

At a time the state was witnessing an intense battle between the Congress – represented by YS Rajasekhar Reddy – and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) headed by N Chandrababu Naidu, Chiranjeevi was accused by the TDP of slyly helping the Congress by floating his own party.

Naidu accused Chiranjeevi of having helped Rajasekhar Reddy come back to power in 2009 “discreetly” by splitting the opposition vote. The mega star floated the PRP one year before that election and won 18 seats with 16.43 per cent vote share. The TDP then secured 92 seats in the 294-seat assembly in the undivided Andhra Pradesh and the difference in percentage of votes between the YSR-led Congress and the Naidu-led Grand alliance comprising TDP, Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) and the Left parties was just 1.8 percent. “Chiranjeevi’s PRP played spoilsport for the TDP. Had it not been in the fray the Congress couldn’t have come back to power,” Naidu observed at a party’s annual conclave.

The Congress that scraped through the election with nine seats more than the magical figure (147 seats) in that election got breather after Chiranjeevi merged his own party with it. In return, he was sent to Rajya Sabha and subsequently inducted into the union cabinet.

As his brother did to YSR, Pawan Kalyan too helped Naidu in the fight for power against Jaganmohan Reddy, son of YSR, in a similar way in later.  Pawan Kalyan unconditionally supported the TDP-BJP combine in the 2014 election and thwarted Jagan’s attempts to come to power. In that election, the difference in votes between Jagan’s YSR Congress and the TDP-BJP combine was just 1.68 per cent and Pawan Kalyan tilted the scales in favour of Naidu’s that way.

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Pawan Kalyan, of late, has been pitching for a caste coalition between his Kapu community and the Kammas, a caste Naidu belongs to, as an alternative to beat Jagan party. The idea gives the prospect of a realignment between Naidu and Pawan Kalyan.  The actor-turned-politician was in alliance with Naidu’s TDP between 2014 and 2019, but broke the alliance to fight against him in 2019.

Divided or united, the sibling stars, given their inconsistency, are inconsequential in Andhra politics, says a film director. The director says Chiranjeevi’s failed PRP experiment and Pawan’s mercurial personality which makes him jump between leftist and rightist camps, show that neither will end up anywhere in Andhra politics.

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