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Analysis

Updated on: Saturday, June 01, 2019, 02:33 PM IST

Election raising a lot of stardust

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 ‘Want to talk to glamorous Sunny Leone?’ asked my cell phone. And offered me a toll-free number that would give me a ‘chance to talk to Sunny Leone live!!’ today. I am sure thousands of pale and panting people are calling this number right now, hoping for a free and frank chat with this sexy star of adult films. Wonder what they are asking her. Career advice? Unlikely. Professional tips for personal use? Maybe. Which would end up being beeped out of course. In fact, this phone-in chat show could very easily turn into a beep show. Except, of course, when they talk about politics. Oh yes, they will talk about politics. It’s election season!

Wait. Is the scintillating Sunny standing for elections? Maybe. I really have no idea. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned up in a sari, head partly covered with ‘pallu’, seeking votes for a Lok Sabha seat. Politics is now the game of the rich and famous, not of ideology, or of dedicated politicians.

And this year, a bumper crop of celebrities have arrived, brightening up staid political parties with their glamour and shine. The most star-dense party this year is perhaps Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party. The TMC rocks. It has cut across generations and established political leanings to gather stars from cinema, sports and pop music to make the most swinging party for the 2014 polls.

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From Biswajit, once a formidable star of Bengali and Hindi cinema of yore, to the glamorous Moon Moon Sen, actress and daughter of screen goddess Suchitra Sen to Sandhya Roy, actress and former heartthrob of millions of Bengalis, from Bengali cinema’s current superstar Dev to football celebrity Baichung Bhutia, from popular singers Indranil Sen and Soumitra Roy of the Bangla band ‘Bhoomi’ and theatre actress Arpita Ghosh, Banerjee has gathered every celebrity from the entertainment industry who seemed even remotely willing to join.

Not to forget that she already has a few big Bollywood and Tollywood stars as members of Parliament and the legislative assembly, like MPs Mithun Chakrabarty (till recently known for his closeness to Left leaders), Tapas Paul and Satabdi Roy, and MLAs Chiranjeet and Debashree Roy. Then there is the unpredictable Kabir Suman – the popular singer, lyricist, poet, actor, activist and sitting TMC MP, who never misses an opportunity to criticise or attack his own party. This time, Didi should be delighted to be able to shake off this star that turned.

But if the TMC seems rather greedy for glamour, the Bharatiya Janata Party is not too far behind.  Apart from old faithfuls like Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna and Smriti Irani, the BJP is routinely flaunting new entrants from the world of entertainment this poll season. From Bollywood stars Paresh Rawal, Kirron Kher and Joy Banerjee, to music director Bappi Lahiri, from Bhojpuri actor and singer Manoj Tiwari to Bollywood singer Babul Supriyo, the party promoting old values and Hindutva is not doing badly by way of cashing in on the non-Vedic values of the film industry.

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The Congress is determined to be a fun party too, with movie stars Raj Babbar, Nagma, veteran Odia actor Bijoy Mohanty, Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishan and others. And then there are stars like Jaya Bachchan and Jayaprada, who bring up the glamour quotient of other parties. The list is endless.

But is this a good trend? Tapping into the committed fan following of stars makes sense for winning votes. Especially at an age where ideologies have almost vanished, real issues do not matter, where democracy is reduced to a game of numbers and vote-banks. As opposed to the unknown political worker slogging away somewhere, celebrities get your attention, they get media space, if they are attractive enough they may even get your vote. Whatever they do or say is big news. It is easy for a political party to ride on their fame and claim the spotlight.

This flooding of politics by celebrities in every party and region may be a new trend, but celebrities entering politics is not new in our country. There has been a long tradition of celebrities – especially film stars – getting deeply involved in politics, standing for elections and participating in governance. And many have been extremely successful.

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In Tamil Nadu, we had the formidable M G Ramachandran, superstar actor, director and producer of films, who had a long innings as chief minister of the state. He broke away from the DMK and formed the ADMK, later the AIADMK, where his legacy is continued by J Jayalalithaa – his screen heroine, confidante and political heir. In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, N T Rama Rao, another superstar actor, director and producer of films, also formed his own political party and became a successful chief minister.

But not every film star is as successful as MGR or NTR or Jayalalithaa. Generally, there have been distinguished actors like Sunil Dutt (who became a Congress leader) and Shatrughan Sinha, who have had a triumphant second career in films. But many more have taken a quick dip and run away. Like Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Govinda or Sanjay Dutt. Rajesh Khanna was more dedicated and successful.

Sadly though, celluloid stars may not always make great vote-catchers. Especially since they are constantly in the limelight and they are not always used to saying stuff in public that is not out of a script written by someone more responsible with words. At the moment, the youth heartthrob Dev, the highest paid actor in Bengali cinema, TMC’s star campaigner and candidate, is in deep trouble. When asked how he felt contesting the polls, Dev told a Bengali newspaper: “It is just like getting raped, ‘yaar’… you can shout, or you can enjoy.” This kind of superbly silly sexist remark does shock potential voters and starts all alarm bells ringing. Especially when the whole country is going through a rethink on rape. Where was Dev hiding all this while? Under his make-up?

But then, much worse has been said in politics by politicians. Even Dev’s own leader has been uniformly insensitive in her remarks on rape in her state. So why single out Dev?

Celebrities get you eyeballs. Being a member of Parliament or of the Legislative Assembly is serious business. Perhaps there is need for some training and dedication in this area too? But in a country where most candidates trying to represent you and me in Parliament are people you and I shall probably run from if close, what is the harm in having some beautiful people from the screen brighten up our politics?

Antara Dev Sen is Editor, ‘The Little Magazine.’

Email: sen@littlemag.com

   Antara Dev Sen

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Published on: Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:03 AM IST
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