Bollywood is doing some heavy lifting, mostly for India’s ruling party, this election

Like father like son.
Like father like son.
Image: AP Photo/Pankaj Nangia
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Yet another big Bollywood name is debuting in Indian politics.

On April 23, Sunny Deol said he was joining the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to contest elections from the Gurdaspur constituency in Punjab.

The 62-year-old actor isn’t alone. A few days earlier, actress Urmila Matondkar joined the opposition Congress party to contest from Mumbai North, where she has already begun campaigning, drawing considerable crowds.

All this is hardly new. Such an overlap of Bollywood and politics often even runs in the family.

While Deol’s father Dharmendra (popularly known only by his first name) has represented the Bikaner Lok Sabha constituency in Rajasthan in the past, his stepmother Hema Malini is a sitting MP from Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). Malini is now seeking another term from the same seat.

The Gurdaspur seat, which the Deol of Gadar-fame will now contest, was held by another Bollywood biggie Vinod Khanna until his death in 2017. Khanna won in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014. Kavita Khanna, his wife, has even expressed disappointment with the BJP for fielding Deol instead of her. She is now reportedly contesting the seat as an independent.

Over the past decades, several others have tried crossing over, sometimes successfully, often not. This includes Amitabh Bachchan and wife Jaya Bachchan, Sunil and Nargis Dutt, Mithun Chakraborty, Rajesh Khanna, Govinda, Raj Babbar, and Gul Panag.

Some famed silver-screen names contesting the ongoing Indian election are:

Singers Babul Supriyo, who will challenge Moon Moon Sen in Asansol, West Bengal, and Hans Raj Hans are both contesting on BJP tickets this year.

On the sidelines

A number of others, who haven’t taken the political plunge yet, will still remain in the political limelight.

For instance, Vivek Oberoi, whose film PM Narendra Modi was barred from being released on April 11—the first phase of the election—is a “star campaigner” for the BJP in Gujarat, according to documents filed with the election commission of India (ECI). Actor Paresh Rawal, a member of the outgoing parliament, features on this list, too.

Some are involved in other ways. For instance, at prime minister Narendra Modi’s behest, Shahrukh Khan has created a rap anthem to motivate people to vote.

Yesterday (April 24), actor Akshay Kumar, known for his patriotism-laced films, sat down with Modi for what was dubbed a “candid and COMPLETELY NON POLITICAL” chat, aired on wire service ANI.

Coming in the middle of the election season, the “interview” was seen as an attempt to throw the soft light on Modi without ruffling the election commission’s model code of conduct rules. Many have called it “paid promotion”; one of Kumar’s followers said, “Releasing this during election time IS POLITICAL.”

While a number of movie artistes like Anupam Kher, Vir Das, Renuka Sahane, and Javed Jaffri have been politically vocal on social media for a while, such messaging by celebrities amidst the poll season in India needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

In a documentary titled “Operation Karaoke,” released in February, non-profit journalism platform Cobrapost allegedly found 36 Bollywood celebrities—all with scores of followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—willing to accept large sums of cash in exchange for posting favourable messages on behalf of various political parties as if it were their personal endorsement.