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Bollywood stars and their readymade support base: Why Indian politics can’t do without them

Jaya Prada, Shatrughan Sinha and Urmila Matondkar made big political moves this week and parties hope to cash in on their brand value.

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The past week saw the glitzy world of Hindi cinema embellish the political arena. Former Samajwadi Party leader and a popular actor of her times, Jaya Prada joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Disgruntled BJP leader and veteran actor Shatrughan Sinha made it clear he was switching over to the Congress. And Urmila Matondkar – an actor who has been known as much for her glamour as for her acting skills – joined the Congress, with the party nominating her as its candidate from Mumbai North constituency.

From meeting top leaders, joining respective parties amid adequate noise, and dominating news as well as social media space, these actors stood out in politics, even in the midst of a frenzied election season. And not to forget, actor Vivek Oberoi’s forthcoming movie on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, being seen as a puff job to give a fillip to the PM at a crucial juncture, places him somewhere in the fuzzy territory between politics and cinema.

As she joined the Congress, Urmila Matondkar thought it appropriate to bring up criticism that is often directed at her own fraternity to claim it wasn’t true for her.

“One of the criticisms that Bollywood faces is that stars are only visible during elections. But I am not here only for the election. I am here to stay. I am here because I believe in Congress’ ideology,” said Matondkar.

Also read: Bollywood outcast Vivek Oberoi returns with PM Narendra Modi by his side to reset his career

Incidentally, the actor has been fielded to fight the Lok Sabha polls already, with no prior experience in politics. Elections, thus, do seem like a priority for her.

Of course, the ‘Bollywood politician’ is hardly a new phenomenon. Even among these three, Shatrughan Sinha and Jaya Prada have been a part of this field for years. The list of actors from the Hindi film industry to have dabbled in politics is as long as it is interesting.

From Sunil and Nargis Dutt to Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Paresh Rawal, Govinda, Raj Babbar, Kirron Kher, Dilip Kumar, Rekha and Mithun Chakraborty – a host of Hindi cinema actors have ventured into politics, some choosing mass politics and taking the Lok Sabha route, some making their entry through the Rajya Sabha. While some have been with the big national parties — the Congress and the BJP — others have chosen to join regional outfits. Some have had a successful political journey, others haven’t been quite as fortunate.

Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, who can boast of a cult-like following, had a short-lived and rather unpleasant stint in politics. He fought the 1984 Lok Sabha elections to help his friend and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, won with an impressive margin but resigned before his term got over. He vowed never to venture into politics again, claiming it wasn’t for him.

Also read: Kirron Kher’s got talent, even in Parliament. Deal with it

It is perhaps the potent mix of popularity, mass resonance, relatability and glamour that these actors bring to the political table that makes parties so keen to get them on board.

To begin with, a popular actor comes with a ready mass base. The assumption remains that the actor’s fans and well-wishers would translate into votes — if not in entirety then to a significant extent.

A regular politician has to nurture a constituency for eons, or work hard on the ground for long enough to become well-known. Actors, however, are already famous and need little work to get voters acquainted with them.

Moreover, they are brands that people relate to. The entire concept behind getting them to endorse products is that it is believed they hold sway over their fans, and a political party, in a way, is also a product these actors need to convince the masses about. There is also the curiosity value. Voters know them as actors they have loved, and with a tinge of curiosity, would want to see how they translate as politicians.

Also read: From Nehru to Modi, Bollywood always faced political attacks but this capitulation is new

To add to these, the generous dollop of glamour they add bring to politics only makes them more sought after. In fact, the ‘Bollywood campaigner’ is as much in demand as the ‘Bollywood politician’.

Political parties and candidates are known to get actors to campaign for them, hoping to catch the attention of voters and cash in on their goodwill and reach. It is, in fact, almost fashionable to get a star to be present on the dais during a rally, or sweat it out along with the candidate in a roadshow.

Thus, while politics is a tough act, for the Hindi cinema actor, it is just another role.

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  1. A little stardust is always welcome. However, one cannot think of any Hindi film star who has gone on to achieve real, substantive political power, of the sort that MGR, Jayalalithaa, NTR did. For that matter, unclear whether even in the South today, a popular actor like Rajinikanth or Kamal Hassan could come to power independently. As far as Jaya Prada is concerned, when she wakes up in the morning, it must be a little difficult to remember which party she now belongs to.

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