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The man who got the stars for Cong

Aditi Phadnis | March 15, 2004

Do it loudly, do it big and do it well. This is the motto of  T Subbirami Reddy, currently the star of the Congress (I) because of the bevy of beautiful people he has managed to inveigle into the portals of the stuffy, 24 Akbar Road headquarters of the 119-year old party.

Celina Jaitely, Shakti Kapur, Namrata Shirodkar, Moushumi Chatterjee, Asrani -- a host of Bollywood stars filed into AICC to lend their support to the Congress last week. "They have been my friends for 20 years. They will do what I tell them," said Reddy with pride.

Ask him for a visiting card and hold your breath. He will hand you a brochure that lists his achievements that range from producing Hindi blockbusters like Chandni and  Lamhe, to "spiritual offerings" like Bhagwat Gita (which incidentally got tax exemption because Reddy lobbied hard with the Andhra Pradesh government for educational status for the film; it also earned him warm accolades from the Swaminarayan sect -- which happens to be one of the wealthiest Hindu sects in the country and abroad. He was described thus: "a disciple of Lord Shiva and a follower of Vedanta, politically he is a strong Congressman, and was an advisor to the Indian Prime Minister").

His home has featured in interior magazines because it has lots of everything and is lavish in festoons and furnishings. He was nominated as the "person of the year" in Visakhapatnam for 2002-03, soon after he brought (hold your breath again) Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit on one platform for the first time in their careers. Sadly, in the poll, he got only 6 per cent of the vote.

But Reddy must get everyone's vote for the one thing that no one else has been able to do: he managed to render soundless, the otherwise loquacious former US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, who came to one of his parties and was so overwhelmed by the glitz and the glamour that he was unable to say a word for a long time.

Reddy is not a lightweight in the Congress. He was a moving force in the Congress Parliamentary Party and has single-handedly managed to round up glamour for the party, a job that Murli Deora used to do earlier.

He explains that this has to be done judiciously. "You can't just get anyone and expect them to support the Congress. It has to be an actor who is public-spirited and can think on his feet," he said, describing the human resource aspect of the problem.

Accordingly, last week, while expressing support for the Congress, Asrani repeated the Sholay dialogue, "Thode idhar jao, thode udhar jao and baki Congress ke peeche aao."

Taking a dig at the India Shining campaign, Asrani said: "These people are polishing what the Congress did in the past 45 years. If there is an all-India party in the country, it is the Congress. This is a party of poor people that believes in unity in diversity and which does justice to all. Go to any part of the country, you will find Congress."

Replying to a question, the sizzling star of  the 1970s, Zeenat Aman said that she had not joined the Congress but "anything is possible in future". Asserting that she believed in a "secular India", the actress said she came from a true secular family because her mother is a Brahmin and father a Muslim.

Reddy was a protégé of former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, something he would rather not be  reminded of, any more. He contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1999 and lost from his home town, Visakhapatnam.

There is no one who knows more about the workings of the south Indian film industry -- with the possible exception of the emperor of celluloid in the south, Ramoji Rao -- than Reddy.

But he keeps that aspect of his personality a closely guarded secret. He is the ultimate networker who can get things done magically.

Films and politics have had a traditionally close relationship in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Reddy, however, has leveraged it to extend it to Delhi. If the Congress comes to power, who  knows, Reddy might become the information and broadcasting minister.

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