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Munnabhai,M.P.?

Bollywood’s record in politics is mixed


March 25, 2009 12:19:31 am

Will Sanjay be able to deliver the way his father Sunil Dutt did as a politician,and will he carry forward his legacy? Sunil Dutt the politician won five terms from the parliamentary constituency of Mumbai North West,and also became Union minister. That’s an enviable track record for all political aspirants in Bollywood.

Bollywood is no Hollywood,which produced powerful politicians like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Political scientist Darrell West,co-author of Celebrity Politics,says celebrities make good candidates because of the “white knight” phenomenon. At a time when there is cynicism about conventional politicians,“voters often see celebrities as white knights from outside the political process who are too rich to be bought and thereby deserving of trust from the electorate. This gives celebrities a kind of credibility that normal politicians do not have”.

Although we have our own share of celebrity politics,Hindi film actors have not made a mark when cast in the role of a real-life politician — the figure they often revile in their movies. Take the evergreen Dev Anand,who floated his own party,National Party of India (ever heard of it?),during the Emergency in 1975. The party,which was formed as a reaction to the attempts of the then minister for information and broadcasting V C Shukla to intimidate film personalities,vowed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. But neither were these rights protected,and nor could the party be saved,because of Dev Anand’s film commitments. Like most of the films that he subsequently produced,the party also proved to be a flop. Then came Amitabh Bachchan. He contested the Lok Sabha election from his native Allahabad in 1984,and won by a huge margin,but found politics too hot to handle and quit before completing his five-year term. Notwithstanding the Bachchan botch-up,many from the film fraternity kept entering politics,one after the other,including Vyjanthimala,Rajesh Khanna,Shatrughan Sinha,Vinod Khanna,Raj Babbar,Jayaprada,Jaya Bachchan,Hema Malini,Dharmendra,Govinda and Poonam Dhillon. But none of them was as outstanding as Sunil Dutt.

However,it is a different story in the south,from Tamil superstar MGR,his co-star and protégée Jayalalithaa who were both chief ministers,to Telugu star N T Rama Rao and now, Chiranjeevi and his Praja Rajyam Party. While the southern stars have taken political centrestage — maybe because their fans’ adulation borders on idolatory,and the regional nature of their politics — their Hindi film counterparts are way behind,reduced to playing second fiddle in politics.

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So,as Sanjay Dutt readies his Munnabhai act to woo voters,he should keep in mind that today’s voter is very particular about governance,as has demonstrated in recent elections. He wants politicians to deliver on promises,not just deliver dialogues. He doesn’t care about anti-incumbency; he doesn’t care about big names. Will he then care about the Dutt surname,which is Sanjay’s best bet in politics? Even the late Sunil Dutt might have kept his fingers crossed.

rajesh.sharma@expressindia.com

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First published on: 25-03-2009 at 12:19:31 am
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