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Bollywood stars in politics - the good, bad and ugly

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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While Sourav Ganguly and his team are shining across the Indian subcontinent, the stars of tinsel town are ducking to avoid bouncers that they are allegedly dancing to political tunes for money.

In an anticlimax of sorts, the string of Bollywood stars who took to the campaign trail as a show of their awakened social consciousness are reeling under reports that money was their driving force.

Over the last two months, some reigning, some fading and many has-been tinsel town denizens joined either the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Congress party ahead of parliamentary polls.

The images of former beauty queens and yesteryear screen goddesses coyly giving Rs.5 for party membership even as shutterbugs clicked away are still fresh in memory.

But a so-called expose by a Mumbai-based tabloid that gave details of rates that actors were allegedly paid for campaigning for various political parties may have opened a Pandora's box.

Political managers and many actors have since gone on record saying that money has always been a factor in actors joining political parties and campaigning for candidates.

Predictably, the likes of TV star Smriti Irani Malhotra who joined the BJP and Bollywood newcomer Celina Jaitley who will campaign for the Congress have reacted strongly against allegations of money exchange.

Smriti said she is a worker and not a campaigner and has been working for the party since last year.

However, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt maintains that film people can achieve more in public life by being entertainers.

"If stars are using their popularity to attract crowds at public meetings, it is akin to selling a toothpaste, a cola or a car. Celebrities who endorse product do it for money and not because they believe in the product or the company. Why the double standards?" says ad man Suhel Seth.

In India, the world's largest democracy, more film stars strut the political space than perhaps anywhere else. Matinee stars like N.T. Rama Rao and M.G. Ramachandran went on to become big names in politics in the south.

The likes of Shabana Azmi, Shatrughan Sinha, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Raj Babbar have done good work by remaining more or less independent in outlook and away from contentious issues.

Moreover, Mumbai matinee stars seem to have cultivated a very staunch breed of supporters. Many a Mumbai resident is full of tales of how stars use their stardom for a good cause and, most importantly, do it away from the media spotlight.

Not many know that the one number that street children in Mumbai call whenever they are in trouble or have an empty stomach is of actor Jackie Shroff and that the media's favourite bashing boy Salman Khan donates bone marrow once in two months to children suffering from cancer.

Anupam Kher's active involvement with spastic children and Asha Parekh's participation in a hospital of Mumbai, Raveena Tandon and Sushmita Sen's decision to adopt orphans, and Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's many charities hardly ever make it to newsprint.

Interestingly, while Bollywood stars were busy defending their wickets and trying to prove they are not unscrupulous, Hollywood female actor Sharon Stone was declared as the Woman of Conscience by the organisers of one of the most prominent Bollywood events in the US.


The lack of action on the silver screen and the continued dull phase at the box-office coupled with unsavoury reportage has sent Hindi industry folks back to the boardrooms and conferences.

Coming up soon is the FICCI FRAMES 2004 which is dubbed as Asia's biggest convention on the business of entertainment.

The inaugural session will witness Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sports in Britain, and Ashok Amritraj, chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment giving special addresses, with Reliance's Mukesh Ambani presiding over the valedictory session.

Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini will be awarded the FICCI Living Legend Awards by Information and Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Screening room, meeting room, online pitching, networking cocktails -- all the activities at FRAMES 2004 have been designed to maximise business opportunities in the event.

Over 25 countries are participating, with Britain, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Germany sending substantially important trade delegations with representatives from films, music, television, animation, digital effects and other more entertainment sectors.

According to Amit Mitra, FICCI secretary general, the FRAMES 2004 Market Palace has been strategically created within the convention venue to optimise business creation opportunities between the delegates and exhibitors.

The Market Palace was fully sold out over two months ago, with major Australian, British, German, South African and Canadian presence along with Goa and Uttaranchal from India.


A leading business channel jointly hosted a unique forum to have an overview of India's entertainment industry and discuss its many challenges.

As part of the event, "That's Entertainment", two separate panel discussions were conducted focusing on "Television: The New Technology Frontiers: Threats & Opportunities" and "Understanding The New Film Making Paradigm: Issues & Challenges".

Pawan Chopra, secretary in the information and broadcasting ministry, said, "The entertainment industry is on a high right now and the number of entertainment channels are huge and increasing by the day." He added that the proof of the pudding lay in the content.

"At the end of the day, content will decide the leader," he said.

The well-known panellists included Nagesh Kukunoor, Sudhir Mishra, Manmohan Shetty and Ronnie Screwvala.


The dull phase at the box-office is likely to continue with the India-Pakistan cricket series hogging the mindscape and filmmakers failing to find enough takers for films that break the mould.

The science fiction "Rudraksh", the horrific realism of "Jaago", and the anti-racism of "I - Proud to be an Indian" did not find many takers. "Tum", "Kismat", "Agni Pankh" and "Ab Tak Chhappan" met with the same fate.

Bollywood has little to offer in March. There is one Shah Rukh Khan-Raveena Tandon starrer, "Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke", and another Akshay Kumar-Sridevi starrer, "Meri Biwi Ka Jawab Nahin", but both films have been in the making for nearly 10 years.

Clearly, filmmakers were wary of releasing films in March because of the attention bound to be given to the India-Pakistan cricket series.

There is, however, still plenty of onscreen action for English film aficionados.

Even as speculation is rife that "The Passion of Christ" may be a bigger hit than "Titanic", the films of Johnny Depp, Ben Affleck, J.Lo, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tom Hanks, Omar Sharif and Nicole Kidman are waiting in the wings.


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