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Stars Are A Good Bet For Political Parties

Stars Are A Good Bet For Political Parties

Stars Are A Good Bet For Political Parties

MUMBAI, (IANS) – It is election time, and, in this season, political parties develop an extra interest in film stars. On their part, stars reciprocate.

Films and politics have not always been this close. Politicians brought film stars to political rallies to attract crowds. It also happened mostly at the state level. In Mumbai, some party candidates were bound to know an actor or somebody who did. Politicians in other cities used cash, contracts, or favors. In the old days in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, a star was repaid by exempting his films from entertainment tax. Taxes then were not as standardized as they are today. The entertainment tax, being a state subject, varied from state to state and ate up a big chunk of a cinema ticket.

In national politics, the involvement of stars or other film personalities started with nominating them to the Rajya Sabha. This meant recognizing a star’s contributions to a specific field. The first such star was Prithviraj Kapoor in 1952. His third generation is still active in the film industry, though none seems to show an inclination towards politics. The next one to be so nominated was Nargis Dutt. Dara Singh also made it to the Rajya Sabha.

Today, quite a few film personalities are in the Upper House. Nominations to the Rajya Sabha have always been an honor, but these nominated stars hardly served any purpose for the parties nominating them or for the film industry. They basked in the glory of being in the Rajya Sabha. Most were not interested and rarely attended the sessions. The industry was held to ransom in those days by just about every government body that the film industry dealt with. Be it Central Excise, the Censor Board, or Income Tax. There was red tape in all these departments.

For example, a film’s release print had to pay excise duty according to the length of the film, and most of the films in those days exceeded 16,000 feet! When you exported a release print of your film abroad to the distributor there, a censor certificate was not required because all countries you exported your film to have their own censorship bodies. The catch here was that the customs department would only accept the length as certified in the censor certificate! And no star Member of Parliament raised his or her voice against this anomaly. They remained decorative pieces.

As elections started getting tougher and the opposition parties became more prominent, politicians thought of a better way to use film celebrities — make them contest Lok Sabha elections instead of using them as crowd pullers in election rallies. So, we had Sunil Dutt contesting from Mumbai. Dutt was an apt choice, and he won the election from Mumbai Northwest and stayed in office for 12 years.

Thereafter, it was all about star power for that is what worked. So, we had Amitabh Bachchan contesting from his ancestral town, Allahabad, and then, Rajesh Khanna from New Delhi. It became obvious that these stars did not have staying power and, as their popularity waned, they failed to repeat their success. Rajesh Khanna was the prime example. Also, by this time, the voters were becoming more aware of whom to choose. A transition was taking place.

South India was different. Film stars did not compete for a party; they formed their own political parties. Tamil Nadu was the early starter where film personalities took to politics. When M. Karunanidhi took over as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as its president, the party treasurer was M.G. Ramachandran. Karunanidhi was a celebrated writer and MGR a superstar. MGR soon parted ways with Karunanidhi and formed the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

In Andhra Pradesh, it was N.T. Rama Rao, a Telugu superstar, who formed the Telugu Desam Party, and in Karnataka, Kannada superstar Rajkumar did not fight elections, but his word carried more weight than that of the state government. He could bring the state to a standstill as he did when he decreed that Kannada should be the only official language in Karnataka. Eventually, national and state politicians realized that instead of using film stars to attend political rallies to pull in crowds, why not let them contest elections, they reasoned.

Sunil Dutt carried the image of a nationalist and a family man. But the power of star power was evident when Amitabh Bachchan was nominated to contest from Allahabad (Prayagraj) against a very strong leader, H.N. Bahuguna. Bachchan won by a massive number of votes, reportedly over 1.85 lakh. This way, film stars were considered sure-shot bets in elections. Since then, a galaxy of stars has been active in politics: Raj Babbar, Shatrughan Sinha, Jaya Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Govinda, Hema Malini, Kirron Kher, Urmila Matondkar, Gul Panag, Jaya Prada, Paresh Rawal, and so on. Some have stayed back, others got fed up soon enough, realizing that politics was not meant for them.

The strike rate is good as rarely does any star lose elections unless they are contesting from the wrong place at the wrong time and for the wrong party. Urmila Matondkar and Gul Panag are prime examples. In most cases, film stars have felt out of place in politics and have eventually deserted their positions. They have never made a name as an MP or raised issues that concern the people or their industry. Jaya Bachchan is an exception. Amitabh Bachchan resigned without completing his term. Rajesh Khanna did not want to contest again. Dharmendra’s contribution to his constituency as well as to his party was nil and the same was the case with Vinod Khanna, Paresh Rawal, Sunny Deol, and Govinda, who as a Congress candidate had defeated a major BJP leader, Ram Naik. Govinda has now joined the Shiv Sena in the hope of contesting from Mumbai Northwest. If he now wants to be back in electoral politics, it is because several actors attempt to find an alternative to keep themselves occupied when their film career is over. After all, they are so used to staying in the limelight.

That brings one to a couple of prominent names from the fraternity nominated to fight the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Kangana Ranaut is slated to contest from her native town, Mandi in Himachal Pradesh; Arun Govil has also been fielded from his hometown Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Both stand a good chance. Arun Govil is known for his portrayal of Lord Ram in the television serial ‘Ramayana’. And Lord Rama cannot lose in Uttar Pradesh today. 

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  • Among all the stars that have been promoted as politicians, Kangana Ranaout, probably has the best chance- of not only winning the Lok Sabha seat- but also the potential of being second woman Prime Minister, after Indira Gandhi.

    What I have noticed is, when she speaks in a campaign rally, her voice is very shrill and unlike her strong clear diction and voice projection, as she
    speaks her dialogues in the movies (Read…”Jhansi Rani )

    May be needs a voice coach!!

    April 12, 2024

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