With over 4,300 new Covid-19 cases reported daily in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, film personalities are trying to do their part in fighting the pandemic.
But political rivalries and fear of infection have made volunteering a challenge.
“Citizen participation is important in times of calamity,” said actor Kamal Haasan, who is also the founder of political party Makkal Needhi Maiam.
On June 5, Mr Haasan launched a volunteer project called Naame Theervu (We Are The Solution) to help Tamil Nadu capital Chennai, where he lives. The city accounts for more than 50 per cent of infections and deaths in the state.
With over 98,000 reported cases, Tamil Nadu has the third-highest number of infections in India.
The state has imposed a stringent second lockdown till July 31.
“After initially discouraging volunteer efforts, fearing that some other political party or public personality will get the credit, the government is now stretched to the limit. It is finally working with citizens to help those in need,” said a senior social worker in Chennai who did not want to be named.
Naame Theervu has over 3,200 volunteers, including the veteran actor’s fans. They have helped more than 7,600 families with groceries, medicines and transport, as well as installed about 280 sanitiser stands across Chennai.
Mr Haasan said: “This is not the time for profit or politics. We want to collaborate with the government if they let us.”
Compared with Maharashtra, the seat of Bollywood, and neighbouring Kerala, where movie stars have worked with the government and volunteered on the ground, Tamil Nadu has seen muted involvement from public figures.
In April, the state government announced that only local municipal authorities could distribute cooked food packets and rations.
When community groups and opposition parties threatened to challenge it in court, the government clarified that it had advised volunteers only to stay safe.
In April, the Singapore Government asked Mr Haasan, his fellow actor Rajinikanth and music composer A. R. Rahman to issue a video message for its Tamil-speaking citizens and migrant workers.
“I was so impressed that they reached out for this, to send a message to people. This is what citizen engagement is… it is a greater need of the hour than using the police to commandeer people,” Mr Haasan told The Straits Times.
Most celebrities in Tamil Nadu have contributed to state and central government funds earmarked for coronavirus-related aid.
Actor Vijay donated 13 million rupees (S$243,000) and actor Ajith gave 12.5 million rupees to the Chief Minister’s relief fund and PM Cares Fund set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Their fan clubs have distributed some rations to the poor. Actor Rajinikanth donated 5 million rupees and actress Nayanthara gave 2 million rupees to help thousands of film technicians who had no work during the lockdown.
Actors Suriya, Vijay Sethupathi and Sivakarthikeyan donated 1 million rupees each, and actors Parthiban and Prakash Raj donated rice.