ScreenSavour: Reel vs Real

Politics and cinema have always fed on each other for mutual benefit

<b>ScreenSavour</b>: Reel vs Real
Way back in 1984, riding on a sympathy wave post Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Amitabh Bachchan accepted the invitation of his then friend Rajiv Gandhi and stood for Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad, his hometown. The local people went crazy as the superstar campaigned amongst them and eventually defeated former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Lok Dal leader HN Bahuguna by a massive margin.

But his role in politics did not last long. His comment in parliament, equating politics with a cesspool brought him swift condemnations, even from members of his own party, and he soon moved back into acting and banned the media from his life as his name became increasingly connected with the Bofors scandal that severely dented the Congress party’s reputation.

For an actor, the kick of connecting with people directly and the reality of ground politics with its convoluted dealings is a chasm difficult to negotiate. But the lure of fame is all-pervasive especially for people who have tasted unprecedented success and popularity. Most actors find it difficult to come to terms with their fading stars and many of them take recourse to politics, hoping to recreate the adulation that they enjoyed on the big screen.

But Rajesh Khanna’s foray into politics via the Congress did not quite bring him back his former glory and like Bachchan, he had to beat a retreat. Shivaji Ganeshan, Tamil megastar of the 50s and 60s joined Congress in the early 80s, trying to emulate his successful colleague M G Ramachandran (MGR), but when he was ignored at a Congress session and the media focused on other heavyweights, he left the session hurriedly and quit politics forever. Govinda proved to be a joke with his lack of basic information while yesteryear actor Moonmoon Sen’s comment during campaigning — she is fighting on a Trinamool ticket — that it is difficult to look glamorous in the summer heat, is an indication of her political future.

But it is not that filmstars have not had a successful stint with politics. The south set the trend in the 70s with MGR who ruled the roost in the Tamil film industry along with Shivaji Ganeshan from the 50s to the 70s. He broke away from DMK and formed the AIADMK party and ruled the state, even when he went senile.

His co-star and protégé, Jayalalithaa inherited his legacy and like her predecessor, has considerable impact on the national scenario. DMK’s M Karunanidhi, who wrote the scripts of most MGR films had been a formidable opponent to MGR and has also been the chief minister of Tamil Nadu on a few occasions. In Andhra Pradesh, aging superstar N T Ramarao formed Telegu Desam party and held sway as the CM in the 80s, impacting national politics, followed now by Chiranjeevi.

In Mumbai, Sunil Dutt had been a committed Congress party worker and parliamentarian whose name and social work still evoke admiration. With the rise of BJP in the past two decades, several actors joined the bandwagon, like Shatrughan Sinha, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra and in recent times Paresh Rawal, who has just won from Ahmedabad-east and Kirron Kher who has won in Chandigarh.

Television bahu Smriti Irani, riding on her popular but regressive soaps where she featured in traditional saris and sindoor-laden hair, found a ready soulmate in BJP which espouses such representations with an eye on the Hindi heartland. She may have lost the Amethi seat but she has a firm fotting in the party in any case.

Bhojpuri stars Ravi Kishen and Nagma, both of whom were fielded by the Congress, may have lost, but they did add a dash of glamour in the campaign trail. Jayaprada’s priorities seem to be confused as she continues to follow her mentor Amar Singh. Others like Rajnikanth and Shabana Azmi prefer to impact politics from outside, the former endorsing a winning horse while the latter jogs the middle class conscience with frequent participation in TV debates and social activism. Clearly, despite the vicissitudes in relationship, politics and cinema continue to feed on each other for mutual benefit.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)

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