Dazzling star cast to feature in general election

By Deepshikha Ghosh, IANS
3/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Like never before, the upcoming Indian elections are all set to see a galaxy of popular film stars sparkle on the election firmament, wooing starry-eyed voters with scripted lines and political histrionics. 

Starting with Hema Malini, the "dream girl" of the 1970s who continues to set hearts aflutter, and her equally popular husband Dharmendra, the BJP's list of potential star candidates is swelling.

Wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh and prolific singer-composer Bhupen Hazarika are also in line to fight as the BJP candidates.

Rival Congress, which had boasted of some of the greatest stars on its side long before others, is finding it difficult to win newer stars. But the Congress continues its efforts, with a separate film and television cell set up to try and rope in starry recruits.

Stars start getting calls before every election. Some join, some resist. The much-coveted Shah Rukh Khan has announced he would not campaign for any party.

In Bollywood, which churns out some 900 films a year, actors have always been tempted to test their fan following in the power-packed world of politics.

Their part is becoming larger in an arena where voters are fickle, unpredictable and multi-hued, and political promises are hard to keep leading to uncertainty about retaining one's support.

Rajya Sabha MP Hema Malini is all set to hit the campaign trail - and if the BJP so desires - even contest.

"I have always admired the BJP's ideology and am a great fan of (Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee," says the veteran actress who appears much younger than her 55 years.

Her husband Dharmendra is considered more important for the BJP, especially to lure the sizeable Jat community in Haryana that the actor belongs to.

Other actors-turned-BJP leaders who would feature in the polls are Shipping Minister Shatrughan Sinha and Minister of State for External Affairs Vinod Khanna.

Says BJP leader Pramod Mahajan: "We do not hanker for stars. They have everything, be it fame or money. If they want to join the BJP, who are we to stop them?"

Actor Jeetendra also followed his colleagues into the BJP recently, but explained it was only because of his faith in Vajpayee.

"I have always supported different political parties so it would be wrong to state that I am pro-BJP," said the man whose fans know him as "jumping jack".

"Every year many political parties approach me and I always support the one I like. Of course I must say I have immense faith in Vajpayee. I like his vision and ideas and that is why I am supporting him in the elections."

Television stars, who enjoy a wider audience than their big screen counterparts, are also taking a stab at politics, like Smriti Malhotra Irani, Aman Verma, Sudha Chandran and Gajendra Chauhan.

A dismayed Congress says the BJP cannot fool people with its star parade. "They are trying to get celebrities so that they can divert attention from their basic failings," says party spokesperson Anand Sharma.

The Congress was the first to field film stars as big as Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Dutt, an MP, wants to fight again. Khanna has not contested since he lost the 1996 Lok Sabha polls after two terms.

Bachchan, initiated into politics by his late friend and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, quit in disgust after his name got embroiled in the Bofors arms purchase scandal.

But more than a decade since, he has grown extremely close to Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh who bailed him out of a crippling financial mess.

The Congress is also trying to rope in comic hero Govinda and actresses Preity Zinta and Poonam Dhillon. The party reportedly wanted Govinda to contest against a strong BJP candidate in Mumbai.

Box office success does not always spell instant success in politics, but there are examples of those who were taken seriously even outside movie theatres, like N.T. Rama Rao of Andhra Pradesh and M.G. Ramachandran of Tamil Nadu.

Ramachandran's co-star and companion Jayaram Jayalitha (now the state's chief minister) took over his legacy and went on to become a shrewd politician.

Another star-studded political outfit is the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, and it is evident on every birthday party of his deputy Amar Singh. Besides Bachchan, its cast reportedly includes Shabana Azmi, Raj Babbar and Raza Murad.

Says political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao: "Actors have to play politicians in their reel life, while politicians have to act in their real life. It is natural for one to transit into the other, but it is not necessary that every actor will make a great politician.

"Although, the reverse could always be true," he remarked wryly.