Will Bollywood’s Star Power Gloss Over Modi Government’s Failings?
In the run-up to the 2019 elections, we are witnessing a sophisticated ploy, to mine Bollywood’s star power.
While inaugurating the National Museum of Indian Cinema in Mumbai recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw a question at the gathering of film personalities. He asked them, “How’s the josh,” grinned, and waited for the appreciative laughter and applause.
Both came duly, albeit with a slight time lag during which the audience was probably trying to figure out what he meant and why he had lobbed the word into their midst. Well, the riddle wasn’t that hard to crack. It was a reference to the film Uri: The Surgical Strike. And it showed that the PM was au courant with Bollywood fare, knew how to speak in filmi lingo, and was one of Hindi film industry’s own. It was, in fact, Modi executing one more flourish of his recent love fest with Bollywood and its denizens.
Political parties have always tried to get the film industry on board in the pursuit of electoral gains. But hitherto, the exercise was largely limited to fielding them as candidates to contest the polls. Even if they were past their prime, their glamour and cachet in the collective consciousness of movie-loving Indians ensured that they won big for their party from wherever they contested.
That strategy continues. However, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, we are witnessing another, and perhaps a more sophisticated ploy, to mine Bollywood’s star power.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to some he is synonymous with his party, the BJP — has embarked on a calibrated and multi-pronged campaign not just to cosy up to Bollywood, but also to leverage it to burnish his own image.
In December, Modi met with several film producers and senior actors, including Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Karan Johar, Rakesh Roshan, Ronnie Screwvala and others, to discuss issues related to the film industry. When the government reduced the GST rate on movie tickets soon after that meeting, several actors took to Twitter to thank the Prime Minister and applaud the government’s move.
Now, big-ticket actors like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn or Aamir Khan have millions of followers on Twitter and other social media platforms. So each time they give a thumbs-up to Modi, the sentiment is megaphoned across demographies and throughout their vast fan base on social media.
That’s a lot of positive publicity, and retweeted, amplified and ricocheting around the corners of the internet, it could well count in an election year.
The same process played out earlier this month when Modi met a delegation of young actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Ekta Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Ayushman Khurrana and others. The actors tweeted their “groupfie” with the PM and the latter did so too. The picture went viral, covering Modi with some very welcome star dust and star love and upping his allure amongst those that are star struck.
Add to this two recently released films, The Accidental Prime Minister and Uri — the one belittling the Opposition Congress’s leadership, and the other valorising the NDA government’s so-called muscular military exploits — and you realise that Bollywood has become a significant element in Modi’s bid to retain the country’s top job.
Oh, and let’s not forget that other film, PM Narendra Modi, which is in the works. With Vivek Oberoi in the lead role (he has long been a Modi devotee) it promises to be an out-and-out hagiography and will likely do its bit to portray the Prime Minister in a heroic and messianic light.
Modi’s current bonhomie with Bollywood is, however, a far cry from what the situation was in the early years of his government. Large sections of the film fraternity were miffed with CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani’s (yet another self-confessed Modi bhakt) outrageous acts of censorship to make movies sanskari.
Many felt that the government wanted to curb freedom of expression and impose a Victorian code of morality through its proxies in cultural institutions.
Again, Bollywood personalities like Ranbir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Piyush Mishra and many others supported the students of the Film and Television Institute of India during their prolonged agitation against the Centre’s decision to anoint Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s chairperson. Chauhan, a B-movie actor whose sole claim to fame was that he had played the role of Yudhishthir in the tele-serial Mahabharat, was considered ill-qualified for the job.
But that was then. Today, irritants like Nihalani and Chauhan are no longer around. And Modi’s Bollywood charm offensive, his attempt to harness its reach and persuasive power to further his own ends, shows that the BJP’s election strategists are treating the Hindi film industry as a key constituency.
In truth, who better than Modi to press the levers of an industry of dream merchants? A master manipulator of mass media, an image-maker nonpareil, who better than Modi to make the illusionists of Bollywood dance to his tune?
But whether or not the glittery illusion will overtake the reality of lost jobs, rural distress and broken promises remains to be seen.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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