- Parties across the spectrum are bitten by the starry bug
- Till they join a party, big stars in India prefer to keep mum on any remotely controversial issue
- Bollywood cosying up to the Modi government is in striking variance to Hollywood’s response to Donald Trump’s presidency
- Southern stars have always been different from Bollywood
The one thing you can guarantee about Indian elections is that a lot of “abhinetas” (actors) whose careers are on the wane will parachute into a party office and instantaneously become “netas” (leaders).
And 2019 is no different.
You have the larger Deol family now in the BJP. Sunny Deol, 63, whose muscular nationalism and “How’s the josh” roles in films such as Border and Gaddar, have made him a natural fit for the BJP, being announced as the candidate for Gurudaspur.
His stepmother Hema Malini is already a Member of Parliament (MP) from Mathura who has made quite a stir with her campaign style. Always accompanied by a mobile air-conditioning unit, designer glasses, holding her blow dried hair in place, wearing humongous amounts of jewellery and decked up in chiffon saris, the erstwhile dream girl is a sight to behold.
Her bemused constituents see her swoop down and play act for the camera by posing on a tractor or carrying a basket on her head, ensuring that not even a single hair is mussed.
Deol’s father Dharmendra was also elected a BJP MP from Bikaner. He refused to visit his constituency even once, leading angry voters to register police reports on their missing MP. Posters were also put up offering rewards to anyone who found Dharmendra. Finally he quit without once visiting his constituency.
Yet, the BJP seemed inordinately proud of bagging the son. Party spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao said they all had family history with BJP. Forgotten was the BJP’s slogan “dynasty is nasty”. The Deol dynasty was welcome.
Parties across the spectrum are bitten by the starry bug. The Congress preferred to jettison Priyanka Chaturvedi, who had been working hard for ten years, in favour of the Rangeela girl Urmila Matondkar. She whizzed in to meet Rahul Gandhi and was given a ticket to contest from North Mumbai. Chaturvedi wanted the ticket. She quit the party and joined Shiv Sena in protest.
Till they join a party, big stars in India prefer to keep mum on any remotely controversial issue. Take the case of superstar Amitabh Bachchan who has become a Modi endorser and brand ambassador to almost all flagship projects of the Modi government.
Bachchan is also allegedly named in the Panama papers, but so far has not been bothered by the tax man. His wife Jaya Bachchan is a member of the Rajya Sabha from the Samajwadi Party. Always pays to keep all the bases covered. Bachchan himself was a congress MP from Allahabad, now Prayagraj, for his good friend, the late Rajiv Gandhi, but quit, saying politics was not his cup of tea. He is now equally good friends with Narendra Modi.
Bollywood cosying up to the Modi government is in striking variance to Hollywood’s response to Donald Trump’s presidency. Leading actors such as George Clooney spoke out against Trump. Most A-listers boycotted his inauguration including singer Elton John and Beyoncé. Celebrities should not lend their names to normalise or validate hate-filled politics. And Trump’s history of bigotry, racism and sexism clearly makes Hollywood uncomfortable.
No such qualms for Bollywood. Young A-listers such as Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan were shepherded by Karan Johar and flew into take a starry selfie with Modi, which is now part of the BJP’s publicity material. Actor Akshay Kumar just conducted a choreographed soft ball interview billed as “non-political” with Modi during this election.
Earlier, writer Prasoon Joshi had conducted a similar interview with Modi in the United Kingdom where he was renamed ‘Spoon Joshi’ for the kind of flattering questions he asked such as detecting a “fakir” and “fakiri” in Modi.
Bollywood plays a role
Salman Khan has obligingly flown kites with Modi. Clearly a message was sent to Bollywood when the BJP IT cell hounded Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan for some gentle criticism of intolerance in India under the Modi government.
Priyanka Chopra is also a Modi favourite and he attended her wedding. It is, perhaps, a coincidence that she became a brand ambassador of Assam with the government paying her crores. Chopra is not a native of Assam and does not have any connection with it and yet was the face of “Awesome Assam”.
Hollywood has also used mega ceremonies such as the Oscars to deliver a big political message. Marlon Brando sent a native Indian to receive his honour to protest against their treatment. Leading women actors protest agsinst pay disparity between men and women actors.
Perish the thought in India where rigged awards are given with actors singing and dancing for huge fees. It’s pretty much a money-making opportunity for the ones holding the award, often sponsored by tobacco and alcohol brands, and the stars.
Southern stars have always been different from Bollywood. And unlike Bollywood they actually wield real power. Three chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, MGR, J Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi, were all involved in the world of cinema, but never went back post the switch. They stood for a clear ideology unlike most Bollywood stars.
Even today, Prakash Raj has clarity of ideas and opposes Modi and the BJP on issues. Rajnikanth and Kamaal Hasan, who are planning political roles, have clear ideas.
Unfortunately, the first actor who became a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government, Shatrughan Sinha, who has recently switched to the Congress, was a disaster as a minister. He refused to attend office or parliament. He was stripped of his health portfolio and given shipping. Sinha applied for special permission to act in a film during his tenure as a minister. The film was a forgettable as his performance as a minister.
Actors who get elected easily because of their glamour and exposure have no idea of public service and the nature of public life. They look upon political power as a safeguard or a retirement option. And then get dismal reviews and suffer disillusionment.