Politics, popularity and method acting

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Politics, popularity and method acting
SEAT CAPACITY: Rekha with cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, both Rajya Sabha MPs since 2012

"What's wrong with Bollywood stars?" was the question I had to field during the course of a brief trip to New Delhi lately. From artists and journalists to literary writers and business scions, the chant went, "If actors agree to join politics, shouldn't they be aware of the responsibility which goes with the turf?"


Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Thu 29 Oct 2015, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 6 Nov 2015, 9:10 AM

Stars who have joined the Indian political system have always managed to stir up a brouhaha - either for not doing their job, or doing it. mostly the former
"What's wrong with Bollywood stars?" was the question I had to field during the course of a brief trip to New Delhi lately. From artists and journalists to literary writers and business scions, the chant went, "If actors agree to join politics, shouldn't they be aware of the responsibility which goes with the turf?"

 POWER COUPLE: Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan - he was active in Indian politics in the 90s, withdrawing after controversies struck; she is a current Rajya Sabha member 
Since I'm not an apologist for the star clan, I could just respond with, "Why ask me? Ask them." The ire was largely directed at Rekha, who doesn't seem to have taken her status of a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament (MP), seriously at all. In the same breath, the name of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar crops up. Both Rekha and Tendulkar, since their nomination in 2012, have been conspicuous by their absence at most of the sessions of the upper house in Parliament. Earlier, the usually-beyond-reproach Lata Mangeshkar, playback singer par excellence, had been criticised for her lack of participation in the deliberations.
Meanwhile the buzz is that Salim Khan, retired script-writer but the guiding light of son Salman Khan's career, is tipped to be nominated to Rajya Sabha, the Indian Parliament's upper house. This rumour hasn't been confirmed or denied by him. Since he was a prominent campaigner for the BJP at the last general elections, the conjectures about the nomination is hardly surprising. Plus, talk is that his former co-scriptwriter Javed Akhtar's term is about to end.
So enter Khan, exit Akhtar - a twist in the plot which is as dramatic as the blockbusters they once wrote jointly, be it Zanjeer, Deewaar or Sholay, to cite just three of their most appreciated works.
Over the decades, especially from 1970s onwards, when Bollywood's influence intensified in the public mind, film stars have either been inducted into politics or have sought to join the fray on their own steam. The more visible ones - particularly, the elected members to the Lok Sabha (the lower house) like Shatrughan Sinha and Raj Babbar - have made an impact, albeit with recurring controversies. For instance, whenever he has been miffed with a section of the ruling party's leadership, Sinha has advanced provocative statements against them in print.
Others, notably Dharmendra and Govinda, seemingly couldn't quite cope with the myriad demands which accompany the office of elected members of Parliament. Consequently, the actors with tremendous mass appeal backed out, saying that they were much too innocent to play the political roulette. And, of course, there's the classic case of Amitabh Bachchan who quit when the job became too hot to handle, despite the support of his childhood friend Rajiv Gandhi.
GETTING OUR VOTE:(clockwise from right) Actress Hema Malini, Lok Sabha member from the BJP: Raj Babbar (on the right), current Rajya Sabha member; Shabana Azmi with Sonia Gandhi   
Like it or not, glamour and a larger-than-life persona appears to incite hostility from seasoned politicians, as it did in the case of the uneasy equation between Bachchan and VP Singh. The invincible superstar just had to say that he was thrown into the "cesspool of politics" and all hell broke loose. Wisely perhaps, Bachchan packed up from politics. Ironically, though, today he is a much-coveted brand ambassador, be it to boost tourism in the state of Gujarat or become the face for campaigns like Maharashtra's "Save the Tigers".
A proverbial instance of the Catch-22 situation, Bollywood stars are hankered after for their imm-ense popularity quotient, but are then monitored for every breath they take. However, rank absenteeism is entirely inexcusable. Why take on the onus of serving the public good when you are not interested, except for acquiring a token MP tag?
Ask the widely-respected filmmaker Shyam Benegal about whether his stint as a Rajya Sabha MP was purposeful in any way, and his spontaneous response is, "I was distressed seeing how debates verged on the chaotic. On a positive note, I can say that I could get an overview of the way the nation's political machinery works. The experience certainly helped me in making the TV ser-ies Samvidhaan."
Shabana Azmi, I could see first-hand on innumerable occasions, slogged over her plaints and addresses, in her capacity as a Rajya Sabha MP. Undeniably, she took her role in the debates with
the gravitas required from a champion of social welfare causes. Clearly, she could take the step of standing for general elections if she chose, but has kept away from the terrain where angels fear to tread, so to speak.
Her husband, Rajya Sabha MP Javed Akhtar, has strived to speak vociferously for amendments to the copyright law, which would give writers and lyricists their just dues. Result: he has stirred the animosity of Bollywood's music label barons, and isn't approa-ched as regularly as he once was for penning song lyrics. To his credit, he did speak his mind out, loud and clear, on the contentious issue.
Incidentally, New Delhiwallas are curious: will Salim Khan don the political mantle or not? After all, he has rejected the honorific title of Padma Shri accorded to him by the ruling government. Apparently, he felt that the Padma Shri has been awarded to innumerable film personalities who cannot match his seniority or experience.
To be fair, Khan is an excellent raconteur and wit. He keeps his home open to strangers who may be in dire need of help, and has worked towards charitable causes silently.
Hardcore politics, however, may not be his scene. If it is, here's one Bollywood mind who could well prove to be the exception to the rule. Fingers tightly crossed.

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