In India, films and politics are inseparable. Many a film star has made a seamless transition from “filmdom” to politics. Most film stars script their political careers at the end of their film careers so that they can extend their work life. This is the trend not just with southern film stars who have made it big in the political arena—N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) and M.G. Ramachandran founded hugely successful political parties in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, respectively—but with their Bollywood counterparts as well.
The Bottom Line: GVL Narasimha Rao
In the South, film heroes are often depicted as do-gooders or messiahs of the poor and this image carries off-screen as well. As a result, film stars enter politics at the fag end of their film careers to capitalize on the popular goodwill. Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi and Tamil superstar Rajanikant have been contemplating the launch of their political outfits for a long time.
Though Hindi film stars have a wider appeal that extends over many states, they rarely perform roles similar to those Rajanikant does or the late NTR did.
Stars such as Shah Rukh Khan are typically cast in glamorous roles of the Karan Johar variety, in films mostly shot in foreign locales and with plots that no ordinary people can relate to. Further, Hindi cinema is urban-centric. Even stars such as Shah Rukh lack the iconic status or the organized fan following enjoyed by the southern super stars.
In the South, the fan clubs of the film stars readily provide them with an organization that extends over the length and breadth of their states, and which can be converted overnight into political platforms.
Bollywood film stars have rarely launched their own political outfits and have preferred to join mainstream parties. Through the years, Sunil Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Dileep Kumar and Govinda have joined the Congress, while actors such as Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini and Dharmendra have joined the BJP.
While only a few of them have ventured into the hurly-burly of electoral politics, others have preferred the less risky Rajya Sabha route.
National parties consider this as a win-win situation. With the rapid decline in the quality of politicians today—their lack of appeal and their poor oratorical skills, for instance—political parties have increasingly looked towards the filmi duniya (world) to enhance their appeal.
National parties such as the Congress and the BJP stooped to such depths in the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections that they engaged in a shameful competitive farce to line up a host of even B and C grade actors from Bollywood to convince voters of their appeal.
Why on earth should the Congress party require Shakti Kapoor, Asrani or Celina Jaitley to tell the public about its virtues and why would the BJP parade Poonam Dhillon, Yukta Mookhey or Jitendra to highlight its merits?
Until 2004, the trend was to rent an actor for campaign. In 2002, Govinda was hired by the Congress to stage dance performances on the eve of the Punjab assembly polls. Amitabh Bachchan has provided his share of entertainment to the audiences in Uttar Pradesh to repeatedly help his friend Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party.
Lately, however, parties have realized their stupidity in taking for granted the innate intelligence of the Indian voters.Be it municipal polls or Lok Sabha elections, voters prefer candidates who are accessible to them and solve their local problems.
Most Bollywood film stars fail to impress voters as they rarely nurture their constituencies after winning them. Their star status also keeps them away from the constituents.
As a result, most film stars fail to win their parliamentary seats for the second time. There are creditable exceptions to this trend, though. The late Sunil Dutt and Vinod Khanna gained widespread acceptability through their hard work and wide accessibility as they made a genuine transition to politics, while for many others, politics remained and remains an unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain. For instance, in the current Lok Sabha, film stars Govinda and Dharmendra are finding the going tough and may not receive their party nominations to defend their seats.
Being members of national parties, Bollywood actors rarely manage to get into leadership positions and remain on the fringes.
They are not taken seriously by their own parties and often find the slight too difficult to ignore.
Despite Shah Rukh Khan’s comments at the “Hindustan Times Leadership Summit” a couple of days ago that he is “selfish, materialistic, capitalistic and too good-looking to join politics”—the comments were made in a lighter vein—his long-standing friendship with the Gandhi family is an indication that he could consider joining politics later in the day.
If the Congress did not spare the likes of Shakti Kapoor, would it let go of Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Bollywood? G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development and Research Services, a research consulting firm.
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