Film stars' flirtation with politics is not new but so far it has not been successful in North India as much as in the South. People in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh show an unmatched passion for their movie stars and have voted matinee idols like NT Rama Rao and MG Ramachandran to power but in the North big names like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and Govinda got into politics with great fanfare but only to leave it halfway. (Agencies)
It is to be seen whether the current lot of celebrities manage to convert their star appeal for a long haul in the heat and dust of politics or fade out as quickly as they came.
This year, Chandigarh is set for an interesting battle between two celebrities-- Panag, who is fighting from Aam Admi Party (AAP) and veteran actress Kirron, a Lok Sabha candidate from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
When Panag's name was announced, she seemed to have an edge due to her youth appeal but BJP changed the equation by pitching its own star in Kirron, who has had an acclaimed career behind her. Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal, who had to quit the Railway Ministry under a cloud, is caught in the fight of the dimpled beauties.
AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, had many sympathisers in Bollywood during his pre-political, Anna Hazare days but many have drifted away post his political debut. The party may still throw some surprises from Bollywood. Congress is relying on regional appeal by fielding Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishan (Jaunpur), actress Nagma (Meerut) with veteran actor Raj Babbar (Ghaziabad).
BJP is also going with old faithful in Sinha (Patna Sahib), Hema Malini (Mathura) besides adding newcomers Paresh Rawal (Ahmedabad East), Joy Banerjee (Birbhum), Babul Suprio (Asansol) in the mix.
The party with the most star-studded list, however, is Trinamool Congress (TMC). Mamta Banerjee-led party has Suchitra Sen's daughter Moon Moon fighting from Bankura, Sandhya Sen from Midnapore, Biswajit from New Delhi, superstar Dev from Ghatal and singers Soumitra Roy and Indranil Sen among others.
A celebrity face ensures eyeballs and in turn, the stars get a ready space in political parties but they have their own detractors within the system as many feel they get an easy ride while genuine people are marginalised.
Ravi Kishan agrees that stars face more scrutiny. "Movie stars are human beings. We do movies about social problems and you want to contribute to society but still we face tougher scrutiny in politics. This is why many stars quit because artistes are sensitive people. Why treat them like outsiders," Kishan told.
He disagrees that films stars don't do well in politics. "In south we have great actor-leaders in NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran, who have left a legacy in politics. Similarly, we had Sunil Duttji and then there is Shatrughan Sinhaji who is doing great politically," he added.
Abhay Deol too believes that actors willing to do well for the country should join politics. "If there are people (from Bollywood) who are willing to make a change in the system, then they can go ahead. There is nothing wrong with that. People from everywhere should participate in cleaning the system."
The names that successfully traded their movie fame for great political power mostly belong to the South. In fact, Tamil Nadu has been ruled by film-stars and personalities from Tamil cinema since the late 1960s. MG Ramachandran (MGR), who had his origins in DMK, formed his own party AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and took it to great heights. He had an uninterrupted stay in power for 10 years that ended only with his death in 1987.
The party is currently led by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, a former movie star who acted with MGR in many films and inherited his legacy.
DMK leader M Karunanidhi, a former scriptwriter and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa have taken turns to rule the state since 1989.
Legendary NT Rama Rao too rode to power in just 10 months after forming the Telugu Desam in 1982. In the present generation Telugu superstar K Chiranjeevi tried to emulate MGR and NTR by launching his political career with a new party Praja Rajyam but he could not make progress and had to merge it with Congress.
Now, his younger brother Pawan Kalyan has founded Jana Sena Party and has taken a vow to defeat Congress, his brother's party. Contrary to the South where politics and showbiz are intermixed, North has not been very faithful to its stars and their politics is often seen as an indulgence than a serious commitment.
Bachchan, one of the biggest stars of Hindi film industry defeated a heavy-weight like Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna from Allahabad in 1984 in his political debut from Congress.
But his political career was short-lived and Bachchan quit after his name was dragged into Bofors case. The megastar has often alluded to this phase of his life with much pain. It also ended his relationship with the Congress party's first family.
However, it did not deter his wife Jaya Bachchan from taking a political plunge. She first got into SP through Amar Singh but when he left the party acrimoniously, Jaya persevered. She is now a Rajya Sabha member on SP ticket.
Bachchan's contemporary Rajesh Khanna too entered politics at the insistence of Rajiv Gandhi. To his credit the superstar did give LK Advani a difficult time in 1991 elections for New Delhi seat despite the latter riding high on the wave of Ayodhya.
Advani won by a narrow margin but Khanna claimed he had been cheated out of victory and when the BJP leader vacated the seat, Khanna defeated Shatrughan Sinha in a by-election.
After losing out to BJP's Jagmohan in 1996, Khanna quit active politics. It is said that Khanna wanted to be nominated to Rajya Sabha, a wish that remained unfulfilled. There are stars who stuck to politics despite initial hiccups. Both Sinha and late actor Sunil Dutt became cabinet ministers. Dutt remained a politician till his last days while Sinha continues to battle on. He is currently fighting for BJP from Patna Sahib where he is pitted again Congress candidate and Bhojpuri actor Kunal Singh.
Apart from Bachchan, actors who beat a hasty retreat from politics are Govinda, Dharmendra and Sanjay Dutt. Govinda made his political debut from Virar on a Congress ticket. He was elected as an MP for Mumbai North constituency in 2004 elections after defeating Ram Naik of the BJP.
He was criticised for not being there for his voters and staying away from Parliament during his political stint. His film career also suffered during this period.
Bollywood's former wild-child Sanjay Dutt's political stint was equally short-lived. Dutt shocked his family by joining SP. But, after Amar Singh was given the exit door, Dutt too realised that he was better off being 'Munnabhai' in films.
Actor Dharmendra's entry to politics too fizzled out soon. He followed wife Hema Malini to BJP and became an MP in the 2004 general elections from Bikaner in Rajasthan. Criticised for being absent from Parliament, Dharmendra has regretted his decision to enter politics.
Director Prakash Jha vowed never to return to politics after he lost out twice in his native West Champaran from Lok Janshaki Party. The filmmaker is now trying his luck a third time as a JD (U) Candidate from Bettiah after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar convinced him to join the battle again.
Film stars' flirtation with politics is not new but so far it has not been successful in North India as much as in the South. People in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh show an unmatched passion for their movie stars and have voted matinee idols like NT Rama Rao and MG Ramachandran to power but in the North big names like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and Govinda got into politics with great fanfare but only to leave it halfway.