Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, embroiled in the incriminating Cobrapost undercover sting operation that showed three dozen celebrities agreeing to put out politically-charged social media posts to sway public opinion in exchange for cash, slammed the tapes that have emerged as “doctored” and “heavily edited.”
“Their intentions are not right … This is just propaganda to discredit me and sabotage my reputation,” Sood told Gulf News.
“When you approach an individual saying you are from the hon. Prime Minister’s office, you are obviously going to welcome them … I didn’t go to them seeking money. They came to me,” said Sood, adding that this meeting happened in May and that celebrities endorsing political parties isn’t anything new or unheard of.
Sood – who allegedly demanded Rs200 million (Dh10.27 million) for an eight-month contract -- isn’t the only celebrity whose reputation has been sullied this week. In the sting expose entitled ‘Operation Karaoke’, talents including former adult star Sunny Leone (a charge that she has since refuted), Jackie Shroff, Shakti Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi have been caught on camera agreeing to utilise their social media accounts to support a particular political party’s agenda in the run up to the upcoming General elections in India. Their orchestrated posts – driving home a particular political outfit’s agenda and dissing another rival party -- would be dressed up as their personal opinions.
Canadian-born Leone allegedly demanded that her husband and manager Daniel Weber get citizenship in India in exchange for her support towards BJP.
Leone immediately took to Twitter to claim that she isn’t “campaigning for any particular party” and that “discussions and meetings” to promote agendas is all in day’s work for her.
But political analyst and author Shobhaa De isn’t buying it and terms their actions as “intrinsically deceitful”. While a sting operation by definition isn’t fair as it uses stealth, the question to ask is if the operation serves a larger purpose, De told Gulf News.
“In this case, I would say, "Yes'' most emphatically. If Bollywood influencers are open to selling their political opinions/support , I have zero respect for them. This is intrinsically deceitful. I am glad they were exposed. Most of them are has-beens, C-Graders or out-of-work actors in the first place - they have nothing to lose,” said De in an e-mail interview.
They aren’t ‘soft-targets’ either in these circumstances.
“They just want to make a quick buck. And have zero ethical standards,” added De.
All the actors — caught in the sting operation — wanted ready cash for tax evasion purposes.
Vivek Oberoi, who is filming for a biopic on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was shown in his vanity van, speaking about creating a “ripple effect” by posting a certain brand of messages on social media.
Cobrapost also claimed that actor Ameesha Patel allegedly wanted payment before she posts any of the messages on her social media. She was clear that the promised money should reach her bank account, before she posted any politically-charged messages for Cobrapost’s proxy PR.
Controversy magnet Rakhi Sawant also allegedly boasted that she’s familiar with this process as she has been propositioned by other political figures in the past.
While majority of the stars who were propositioned agreed to the shady deals, Cobrapost claims National Award-winning actress Vidya Balan and Raza Mura turned down their deal.