Arnold meets his match in India

Arnold meets his match in India

Arnold meets CMArnold Schwarzenegger has met his match in South India.

On Monday, just a few days after the controversial unveiling of his official gubernatorial portrait in Sacramento, the former California governor traveled halfway around the world to Chennai, India.

During Arnold’s second trip to India in two years, the star of the movie “Twins” sat down with his Indian twin, superstar actress-turned-populist politician, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, pictured at right.

The parallels between the two politicians are uncanny. Both former superstar actors, commonly known by one name, they’re independent-minded politicians who were elected chief executives of their country’s most prominent states.

Schwarzenegger, who was in Chennai to promote the audio launch of the highly-anticipated Indian film “I,” was beaming following his meeting with the South Indian chief minister, who is locked in contentious by-elections for local posts. He kept fans all over the world apprised of his trip with frequent updates on Twitter and Instagram.

“It was fantastic to sit down with Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa before our event tonight and talk about her state’s success and challenges,” a grateful Schwarzenegger posted on Twitter and Instagram, along with photos of his meeting. “That’s the advantage of being an actor who was also a Governor!!”

Arnold requested meeting

For all his faults as a politician, Schwarzenegger the media strategist can spot trends and positions himself to take advantage of the next big thing.

Jayalalithaa has Indian star power. The Indian politician has starred in four times as many films as Schwarzenegger.  It’s easy to see how Jayalalithaa took her party from a regional player to South Indian heavyweight. You can’t go more than a few hundred meters in Chennai, the capitol of Tamil Nadu, without seeing a poster or billboard emblazoned with the image of the state’s chief minister.

“Under Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa’s regime, AIADMK has spread out beyond Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and state units have been established in the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh,” the party’s history states.

In February, loyal members of her centrist All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) ate food off the floor as part of the traditional “Mann Sor” ritual to offer Jayalalithaa blessings on her birthday.

And as further proof of the Tamil politician’s rising global prominence, Arnold requested the meeting with her.

“Arnold has been the governor of California and has heard about the TN CM. So, he is keen to meet her while he is here in Chennai,” Indian film producer Aascar Ravichandran told the Times of India. “Arnold’s team has sent a request to the chief minister’s office regarding the same.”

India quickly catching up to California

In a way, Schwarzenegger’s globe-trotting subtly acknowledges the reality that California is no longer king. As evidence, here’s a fact that might surprise you: Hollywood, California’s most iconic export, produces fewer films than India’s thriving film industry.

“I always thought that United States is known for having them make the most movies,” Schwarzenegger told CNN-IBN’s Rajeev Masand in an interview during his visit. “But, then I found that India makes many more movies than the United States.”

According to figures from India’s Central Board of Film Certification, the country produced 1,602 films in 2012, with Tamil surpassing Mumbai’s Bollywood for the number one spot within India.

And it isn’t just film. The burgeoning ride-sharing industry is making a play for India’s transportation market. Earlier this week, Uber launched its popular UberX cab service in Mumbai, Chennai and Pune. The company began competing in India last August, starting in India’s tech-center, Bangalore. Those four cities have a population of 28.7 million people, roughly three-quarters of California’s total population.

To be sure, Californians still have bigger paychecks and more disposable income, but Uber’s competitive edge, a low-overhead business model, also allows it to compete in India’s transport market. Uber, which operates in 10 Indian cities, has roughly 30 employees in India, due to a policy of hiring only three employees for each city it serves.

Ryan Graves, head of global operations at Uber, told the Times of India, “UberX is accessible to a much larger population because it’s affordable.”

California politicians should take notice of that changing economic reality. After all, California’s first response to ride-sharing was an attempt to regulate the companies out of existence.

If California continues its hostility toward innovative companies, there’s every incentive to shift corporate headquarters out of the Golden State. Arnold’s certainly not going to dissuade them.

“I’ve come to India before and it’s fun being here,” he told CNN-IBN.

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