In an alleyway at Sai Nagar slum in Kandivali (West), Sujata waits near a Sai Baba temple to welcome their chief guest, Urmila Matondkar, the Congress candidate from Mumbai North Lok Sabha seat. As the actor-turned-politician arrives, she shares her excitement with a friend: “She doesn’t look like the Rangeela girl anymore.”
Twenty-four years after its release, Matondkar is still popular for her performance in Ram Gopal Varma’s blockbuster ‘Rangeela’. Cut to present day, the actor now wears an ‘Aapli Mumbai chi Mulgi (Our Mumbai girl)’ badge on her sleeves.
Matondkar has been campaigning in the western suburbs of the city, away from her residence in Bandra, since March 27. The 48-year-old electoral debutante has since also moved to Kandivali (West), shifting base to the constituency she is contesting from in the general elections. Her election office is in Borivali (West).
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As the actor-turned-politician tries to make in-roads into the constituency, probably against the toughest opponent in BJP’s incumbent Gopal Shetty — Shetty had defeated former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with a margin of over 3 lakh votes — she uses Congress’s secular pitch and switches comfortably between languages to woo voters in Mumbai North constituency, home to a diverse demography.
As more and more people ask for photos, the actor says: “There is no getting away from the Bollywood actor image. I was asked by the media to do garba (a dance) when I went to meet a Gujarati women’s group in Borivali. I refused. I am not going to seek votes like that.”
She adds, “Phir bolenge dance karke vote maang rahi hain (Then they will say that she is seeking votes by performing dances).”
Matondkar, however, obliges with a smile as locals call out to her during the road show.
“I am not naive to believe that every selfie demand or citizens waving to me will turn into a vote. But, if I can get my message across to even 10 people here, then I am in right direction,” she told The Sunday Express.
En route to campaigning in predominantly Gujarati-dominated Kandivali (West), Matondkar’s road show began at 10 am on Saturday and passed through alleyways, slums, housing societies and arterial roads, for over two hours as she occasionally hopped out of the open tempo to greet her voters, visit local temples and oblige those wanting photographs with her.
There has been a pattern to the several rallies that Matondkar has held since she started campaigning on March 27. A sea of cameras usually follows her mini-open tempo with fans always demanding selfies and pictures.
Her husband, Mohsin Akhtar Mir, who is working for her campaign, usually follows the actor’s entourage during the road shows, but stays away from the limelight.
As the road show enters Parekh Nagar, a cluster of housing societies which has predominantly Gujarati population, Matondkar shuffles between Gujarati and Hindi with ease. “I am not dividing people on the basis of language or caste. But I am using the language that people are comfortable with. It is just for connecting with them,” Matondkar said.
Malini Sheth, member of Rotary club and Parekh Nagar resident, who was among the many who had come out to see the actor-turned-politician, said, “I am going to vote for Modi. I feel protected with him as the PM. She (Matondkar) might be good, but today I just came out of the house for a photograph with her.”
Another local, Anish Gohil, echoed similar thoughts. “What does she know about the constituency? Most of the votes from the area will go to the BJP. She is just an actor.”
As the campaign trail moved towards Marathi-dominated Dhanukarwadi, the acceptance for Matondkar seemed to rise. Sunita Bandekar, a Patel Nagar resident who had come out to see the actor, said she would vote for her. “We should promote and help Maharashtrians progress. In last five years only Gujarat and Gujaratis have progressed.”
Addressing the gathering here, Matondkar sought the blessings from the elders and urged the people to vote for “truth”. Criticising the ruling party, Matondkar said: “Government of the same party is at Centre and the state, but I am appalled with the state of some of the slums and areas here. There is no sanitation, and healthcare benefits haven’t trickled down to the public.”