South Indian movie actors emerge as heroes in flood-hit Chennai

Helping out.
Helping out.
Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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In movies, they fly through the air to rescue their co-stars from the clutches of evil villains, but that kind of heroism is hardly expected of actors in real life. However, over the last few days, south Indian film stars have displayed impressive valour.

Several actors of the Tamil film industry have come together to pull Chennai—and the rest of Tamil Nadu—out of one of its darkest times. For over a month, Chennai has been submerged by its worst monsoon in 100 years. Rain-related incidents have claimed more than 300 lives in the city so far.

Among thousands of workers carrying out rescue and relief operations in and around the south Indian city are celebrities, who are actively working on the ground.

For six days, Tamil film actor Siddharth has gathered volunteers and participated in relief work in and around Chennai. Last week, the actor started #ChennaiMicro—a hashtag created for a concerted effort.

The 36-year-old actor, who has acted in several Tamil and Telugu films, besides a few Bollywood films (including Rang De Basanti), is working with Balaji Patturaj, an Indian radio jockey and comedian.

“When Siddharth and I got together initially, we really didn’t expect this kind of a response. There are 10,000 to 15,000 people coming every day now to the Big FM (the radio channel he works for) office wanting to volunteer. And it’s not just the youngsters who use Facebook or Twitter. There are 70-year-old grandfathers and retired people coming to volunteer,” Balaji told the DNA newspaper.

Siddharth, who lost his house, three studios, an office, and three cars in the Chennai floods, told television channel NDTV that it was probably his personal loss that motivated him to help those in need. ”What I have seen in the last five days looks like what we see in the Hollywood disaster films. I have never seen something of this sort in my entire life,” he said.

Here is Siddharth’s interview to NDTV from Cuddalore—a town around 200 kilometres from Chennai—where the actor went with his team for relief work:

“Siddharth and I don’t plan to go back to our respective professions next week. #ChennaiMicro is not a movement we will give up now. We are in it for the long-term. We will work now to ensure that people are rehabilitated—that’s our responsibility and commitment,” Balaji said. “If a milkman has lost ten cows in the rains, it means he has lost his livelihood. We need to ensure people get back their livelihood.”

Besides the #ChennaiMicro team, another prominent Tamil film actor, Dhanush, has been involved in mobilising food and medical aid through Twitter.

Thala Ajith, a fellow Tamil actor, reportedly accommodated around 180 people in his house. He has also donated Rs1 crore to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

Many other actors are chipping in financially: Rajnikanth—an icon in the Tamil film industry—has donated Rs10 lakh to the victims. Actor Vijay reportedly donated Rs5 crore towards the Chennai floods’ relief fund, while N. T. Rama Rao Junior pledged Rs10 lakh.

Prominent celebrities from the south Indian states of Karnataka and Telangana have also started drives to help Tamil Nadu.

On Dec. 5, actress-turned-politician Ramya sent a truck filled with food, water and other essential commodities from her residence in Bengaluru to Chennai, according to the Times of India newspaper.

Telugu film stars—including Rana Daggubati, Nani, Samantha, Allu Arjun, Kajal Aggarwal, Allari Naresh, Rakul Preet, Lakshmi Manchu, Navdeep, and Madhu Shalini—have come together to start a movement called #ManaMadrasKosam to send supplies from Hyderabad to different parts of Tamil Nadu. Mana Madras Kosam is Telugu for ”for our Madras.”

The heroic efforts of actors have naturally impressed fans who are now calling them “Chennai heroes.” And that’s a title that should not be taken lightly—Tamil Nadu is known to worship its movie stars.