Meet Urmila Matondkar, the politician


Meet Urmila Matondkar, the politician

Published: Fri 5 Apr 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 12 Apr 2019, 9:55 AM

She's certainly capable of springing surprises. Not too long ago, without much ado, she married the Kashmir-based businessman Mohsin Akhtar Mir. A formal announcement of the marriage followed, along with a scant few photographs about the low-key event in the media.
Late last month, she joined the Indian National Congress and met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi. Shortly after, it was officially declared that she would contest the imminent general elections from Mumbai North's Lok Sabha constituency. Her arch-opponent at the hustings is the Bharatiya Janata Party MP Gopal Shetty. Incidentally, this is the same constituency from where Bollywood's popular dancing star Govinda, also representing the Congress, had won the election by a comfortable margin in 2004 against a political leader of the BJP.
Without a doubt, then, here's quite a twist in the real-life script of the 45-year-old Urmila Matondkar, who has been acting ever since she was six years old. As a child artiste, she had made an instant impact with the Marathi film Zaakol (1980), followed by Shyam Benegal's Kalyug (1981), most memorably Shekhar Kapur's Masoom (1983), and Rahul Rawail's Dacait (1987).
The transition to heroine status, after a few hiccups, was accomplished by an excellent, glamour-exuding performance in Ram Gopal Varma's Rangeela (1995). In fact, she became the muse of the director, appearing in a non-stop row of his films, including the widely-lauded gangster drama Satya (1998) and the ghost story Bhoot (2003). Brushing aside rumours of a romance and subsequent break-up with Varma, Urmila went on to feature in over 60 films, in Hindi and other languages. Apart from Rangeela, arguably, I'd rate her performances in Judaai (1997), Pinjar (2003) and Ek Hasina Thi (2004) as her career-best.
Now comes Urmila's toughest challenge yet. Can she make it in politics, where angels fear to tread? A majority of Bollywood's star politicians have eventually conceded that they were misfits in a realm where a Machiavellian mind is one of the key requirements. Needless to say, politics also requires tough skin, stamina and unwavering dedication towards the social upliftment of one's constituency.
Over the decades, unfortunately, most star politicians - whether nominated Rajya Sabha members or elected members of the Lok Sabha - haven't even struck up a decent attendance record at the parliamentary proceedings. In the event, Urmila, if elected, would have to make her presence felt by being visible in the corridors of power in New Delhi as well as her constituency located in the far-flung suburbs of Mumbai. Given the traffic hazards prevalent in the city, even getting there during weekdays is likely to be a different story altogether.
Yet, let's not merely track the downers. Having worked with her as a writer-director on Tehzeeb (2003), in which she played the title role, I found Urmila to be a quick-to-adapt, spontaneous and disciplined actor. The film was a reunion of sorts for Urmila and Shabana Azmi, who had portrayed a mother-daughter duo earlier in Masoom. As an adult daughter in Tehzeeb, she had the tougher part, as she had to shade her performance with the extreme moods of love and hate.
Convinced that she and her sister (Dia Mirza) had been neglected by their round-the-clock busy mother - an acknowledged homage to Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978) - she had to deliver a nuanced, in-depth performance. The scenes depicting their complex relationship were quite demanding, and I was thrilled that both Urmila and Shabana, with their acting chops, enhanced the emotional content in the script.
Besides being consistently punctual on the sets, she trusted me as a director unconditionally. As it happened, the film was released haphazardly. Maybe it didn't get the audience, I dare say, it deserved. Yet, I continue to be singularly proud of the Tehzeeb experience. On one occasion, Urmila went without food or a sip of water for eight hours since the beach where we were shooting was far too remote from the city. Plus, the catering service, a requisite at such shoots, hadn't shown up.
Ah, but that's my subjective recall. Since then, I haven't met her in years. On seeing her today, giving sound bytes to aggressive television reporters, I can detect she hasn't changed. Whether she wins or not at the polls, she has retained her resilient spirit.
Her initial statements have made it clear why she has stepped into politics. In response to a question, she has replied, "Under the current regime, there has been a rise of hatred and extreme intolerance towards everything in the last five years. This has grown by leaps and bounds. People should not be questioned about their patriotism, what they should eat and what their religious views should be. What is happening now is unacceptable." In addition, she has remarked strongly, "If the money being spent on trolling (on social media) by the BJP was put into (social welfare) programmes, then there would be development."
The actress was born to a middle-class Maharashtrian family that believed in socially progressive values. She has two sisters and an elder brother, Kedar, who has worked in the Indian Air Force as an aircraft maintenance engineer.
On a positive note, the Trade Union Joint Action Committee (Maharashtra) has extended its support to her, in recognition of her father Shrikant Matondkar's contribution to trade unions and especially to the All-India Bank Employees' Association, of which he was a member.
Of her own volition, Urmila has not been seen or heard on the screen much in recent years. Instead, she has accepted a new assignment. It's a tough call, perhaps, but knowing a little bit about the heart and mind of the actress, I can say for sure it had to be answered.


Khalid Mohamed

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