By Sujit Bhar
National award-winning Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty’s advent on the election scenario prior to the West Bengal assembly polls was a spectacle of sorts. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had thought that this once-famous actor would be able to sway the emotions of at least a section of the electorate with his filmy dialogues and secure for the BJP a niche among the voters. As it turned out, this ailing actor’s less than intelligent comments from the stage mostly generated laughter, of the wrong kind. If there was a flop as big as Mithunda’s once revered standing in the world of films, this was it. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), of which Mithun was once a member, was merely amused.
One would have forgotten the misadventure of this Mrigaya star as a joke, had one rather enthusiastic TMC supporter not gone to the police and complained that some of the “sayings” of the actor, strange as they were, could have incited the post-poll violence in the state. The police—at the Manicktala police station in north Kolkata—lodged an FIR on the basis of that complaint and it has been reported that the police has already conducted a virtual questioning of the star over these controversial speeches that he made during the election campaign.
Recently, Mithun filed a petition before the Calcutta High Court, seeking suspension of the case against him for alleged incitement of post-poll violence through his filmy speeches. The Court directed the actor to provide his e-mail address to the state so that he can make himself available for a video conference for questioning.
The speeches contained almost laughable quotes from some of his popular films in Bengali. One said: “marbo ekhane, lash porbe shoshane (I will hit you here and your corpse will land in the crematorium)”. There was another which said: “ek chobole chabi (one snake bite—well, he calls himself a cobra for some reason—and you will become a photograph, meaning dead)”. Whatever the impact of these strange dialogues—which cannot even qualify as parlour jokes—on the paying audience at the time of the release of the movies, these utterances from a podium from where an election speech was to be made did not sound convincing from a visibly ill and tottering actor.
To bring the house down, so to say, Mithun even said later that the utterances of such film dialogues were only recreational and that he was innocent and in no way connected with any offence as alleged by the complainant. How a recreational dialogue is connected to a high-voltage and supercharged election campaign is yet to be established—probably the Court will take a light view of all this—but the fact that film dialogues no longer attract an electorate is probably clear from the hesitancy of even a Rajinikanth, in a state where he is treated as no less than a god.
The memories of dialogues from Sholay are bright, but even then, filmy dialogues (the Bollywood types) have always been tailored for the not so bright. And an election campaign cannot be the platform to let go of such gems.
To be honest, Mithun is not just an actor. He has been held close to Bengali hearts surely for his movies, but also for the massive social work that he has done, especially for the cause of thalassemia-struck kids. He has a trust fund which regularly helps children from extremely poor families. This correspondent has experienced the great work of this trust first hand and as one who has spoken from the same podium as this highly intelligent film star on occasions, he has come across as a rather sensible person, capable of deep thought and quick execution.
Had Mithun lectured on a more serious note, he probably would have been taken seriously. He has always been. But whoever wrote his election speeches, or even advised him, was completely unaware of his grassroots work in Bengal, and more so, of his inherent affiliation and leaning towards the TMC. That tie never really broke. When he fell really sick, he had appealed to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to release him from regular political action and meetings. Mamata had quite generously agreed.
True that many other budding stars have been elected to assembly seats in West Bengal—while playback singer and former Union minister Babul Supriyo of the BJP suffered an ignominious exit—but those stars now lie in the appeal zone of the young ones. Mithun is a voice from the past, however famous. This should have been kept in mind before he decided to launch the cobra avatar.
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Politics and film stars have always been rallying together in India. It probably started in the 1960s, when Prithviraj Kapoor entered the Rajya Sabha as a nominated member. Raj Kapoor represented the Congress as its image builder abroad, Sunil Dutt joined politics in 1984 and rose to be the Union sports minister. Urmila Matondkar had been fielded by the Congress as a candidate for the Mumbai North constituency. Shatrughan Sinha was a bright example for the BJP on how to use a strong presence and stronger voice. Vinod Khanna presented a strong man image, unlike Raj Babbar’s intellectual countenance (Congress). Amitabh Bachchan had been on the side supporting Rajiv Gandhi and then the BJP for long. The list goes on.
However, maybe the influence of the film world on politics is tapering off. Maybe it’s the devastated economy, maybe it’s the sheer daily struggle to merely survive. There’s no space for a cobra here.