Politics and cinema: Glittering fable of the character
'Ab o hava desh ki bahut saaph hai
Kayada hai, Kanoon hai, insaaf hai
Allah miyan jane ko jiye ya mare
Aadmi ko khoon vun sab maaf hai
Aur kya kahoon, chhoti moti chori
Rishvat khori, deti hai apna guzara yahan
Aap ki dua se baaki theek thaak hai'
With his impregnable satire, renowned lyricist Gulzar's take on the condition of India in 1971 made the song 'Haal chaal theek thaak hai' from the film Mere Apne a huge hit.
Though many of us may still feel a touch of change here and there, the key problems discussed in the song still persist. And rightly so, to bring in the change we want, democracy has provided us the right to vent out our anger once in every five years.
Cinema is one very powerful medium through which subjects of immense sensitivity have been raised, giving rise to a great deal of awareness and perception on various issues for a very long time. Most filmmakers have not shied away from voicing their opinions on political failures that have affected the progress of the country and affected its people.
Greatly affected by political deficiencies, the public has often looked up to some films not only for the sake of entertainment but also in the hope of being the catalyst for change. With a lot of emotions and admiration involved with the medium of entertainment especially with its protagonists, certain sects have also wished for their reel hero to be their political or real-life hero — one who does not only sell dreams but delivers hope as well by providing better opportunities and facilities in reality for the public to be progressive and successful.
Films may be just another source of business where in the end, box office numbers are actually what matters. Yet, great public expectations and affection for film stories, dialogues, lyrics and onscreen characters have often made filmmakers and screen stars move beyond the business of commerce and make bigger statements.
In more than a 100 years of Indian cinema's existence, there have been various examples of filmmakers and protagonists who on the basis of their ideologies and star value have shifted to politics.
Cinema in the South Indian states especially in Tamil Nadu has been used as an effective medium by many to make a successful entry into politics. In Tamil Nadu, cinema played an important role in the growth of the local Dravidian parties. Starting from 1950s, filmmakers used the subject of Dravidian identity in order to strike a chord with the masses. It ultimately led to the formation of two major political parties in Tamil Nadu — Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
The characterisation portrayed on the big screen also played a major role in the political acceptance of popular Tamil politicians and former Chief Ministers.
With reports of Tamil superstar Rajinikanth also mulling an entry into politics, the trend of popular film stars starting their second innings in politics continues in the state.
Not only in Tamil Nadu but also in other states, top entertainers have become prominent political faces. To name a few are Bhagwant Maan and Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi in Punjab, while in Bengal, there are Moon Moon Sen, Roopa Ganguly, Dev, Mithun Chakraborty, Babul Supriyo, and Manoj Tiwari in Delhi.
Speaking about his role as an actor and now a politician, Bhojpuri superstar Manoj Tiwari and now the Delhi BJP president says, "There is some similarity in politics and in the entertainment industry. In the latter just like politics, you have to coordinate well and ensure that everyone in your team is happy and satisfied. It is only when there is satisfaction and happiness that you can deliver something you truly believe in and that connects with the public."
When asked about the acceptability of an actor in politics, Tiwari said, "It's all about the character the protagonist plays on the screen that plays a very important part in the forming of a favourable public view. As political workers, you will have to do much more for them to make them believe that you have more positive aspects to the character that they see onscreen."
While Manoj Tiwari speaks about positive characters playing an important role in an actor's initial acceptance, Rana Siddiqui Zaman, senior film writer has a much stronger view on actors joining politics.
"There are many actors who join politics due to their mass appeal and not to serve the public at large. Actors due to their mass appeal and popularity can make great politicians but as most of them are a pampered lot they do not work on the ground. They keep on basking under their film-driven glory till they fade away as politicians. Most of the entertainers are not able to take hardships that a political leader has to go through. It breaks their 'Alice in Wonderland' dreamland walk," said Rana Siddiqui.
In highlighting that film stars from Hindi cinema are not as successful politicians as their counterparts in regional cinema, Siddiqui observes, "The reason for many Bollywood stars to be in politics is having more perks and power than the willingness to serve. This is largely proved as they barely attend Parliament sessions or does ay constructive work in their constituencies. In contrast, their counterparts in Southern cinema are more caring and generous towards the masses."
Besides film stars venturing into politics, cinema has always been viewed as a powerful medium for a critique on political discourse all over the world. More often the Hindi commercial cinema is critiqued for not taking a political stand on tough issues.
While A-list stars from Hollywood have made their views on the current President quite vocal, back home film stars of Tamil Nadu have also expressed their honest views on the political challenges and leadership of their state.
"Bollywood has been safe in voicing its views on politics. It might be because there is a lot of money which rides into the making of a commercial Bollywood movie and therefore, profit is the main objective for the filmmakers. There are a large number of investors that have to be satisfied and public sentiments to cater in a Bollywood film. Regional cinema in that way has been more direct in voicing its political opinion. It's not that masala movies are not made in the South but political deficiencies are also shown in the cinema," says National Award winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan.
"It is easy to blame Bollywood for being too weak but just see the controversy which a film like Udta Punjab had witnessed. As the medium of cinema expands, it comes under more scrutiny and criticism," added Rangan.
So, is cinema only a visual medium that sells false beliefs? Can it play a vital role in shaping the state of affairs in the country? Are the mega stars and creative filmmakers capable of becoming great public servants?
"Cinema and art will always have a strong political statement to make. A simple Gabbar Singh's dialogue, 'Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya' has so much impact that it can inspire many to do what we call revolutionary. Politics is not only about being a part of one political party and ideology. It is all about your belief and your thoughts which then give way to your actions," says Amina Sherwani who was the co-writer, director, co-financier and actor in a famous tele-serial 'Fauji'.
Great public expectations are often a difficult act to follow, either by a politician or an actor. Even if one wins public support, the ability to sustain it is another challenge.
Ultimately, it all comes down to sincerity and commitment which an actor or a politician wants to put in the role they are playing. Arguably, greater accountability is involved in both.