Lights,‌ ‌camera,‌ ‌action…‌ ‌
Columns, In Black & White

Lights,‌ ‌camera,‌ ‌action…‌ ‌

March 13, 2021

Indians love drama and so, often become sentimental fools. That is why we build temples for actors, get tattoos of cricketers and even cut off our finger when we vote for the wrong candidate by mistake like 25-year-old Pawan Kumar did in UP! Thank God he didn’t realise it happened because he was stupid else…he may have cut off his head instead of his index finger.

This being the IQ levels and blind obsession with heroes,  it is no wonder our politicians have become actors to appeal to this “sentimental foolishness” —  From Mamata Banerjee’s car attack to PM Modi’s peacock moment.

Three days ago the Bengal Chief Minister was hurt during a rally. Immediately, her party claimed she was attacked by Opposition party workers. Mamata herself alleged that she was attacked by four to five people who pushed her down and banged her against the car! Then videos emerged. It turned out to be untrue.

 From a “victim scene” she moved to a “sympathy arousing scene” as she dramatically sent a video message asking her party workers to be calm and saying, “It’s true I was hurt badly yesterday. I have bone and ligament injury on my hands and feet. I also felt pain in my chest and head” while promising to continue her campaign on a wheel-chair!

Looks like Prime Minister Modi has met his match when it comes to political theatre.  And it literally is theatre. There is costume change, catchy dialogues, palpable emotion and the moment a news camera comes into view, it’s — lights, camera, action… 

It is said, Prime Minister Modi brought spectacle to Indian politics, that’s not true. He brought showmanship to Indian politics and became a show-stopper but this political dramebaazi was always there.

Politics is as much a game of perception as it is about policy, programmes and schemes. In fact, Gandhiji knew the power of perception well. Gandhiji wanted to look and live like the poor, not just so he could relate to their poverty but so he could win their solidarity at a time when the Nation needed an icon who could unite the people. And this image-building was expensive. That’s why Sarojini Naidu said, “It cost the party (the Congress) a fortune to keep Gandhiji in poverty.” Why? Well, one example: Gandhiji drank only goat’s milk as only the poor drank it. So a goat had to be packed off with Bapuji wherever he went, even on his train journey. A goat can be an expensive passenger as it needs it own bogie, a care-taker and a veterinarian.

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Even a politician’s attire is a costume — one they don to send a message. Our Harvard-educated P. Chidambaram wears his dhoti and balances his shawl on his shoulders. Even our foreign-returned, hair-flicking verbose politician, Shashi Tharoor has made a smooth transition from a suit-wearing UN diplomat to a khadi-kurta-wearing desi politician.  Our very own Siddharamaiah went from wearing safari suits to dhoti. It’s all about relating to the masses or creating a perception.

Even Congress President Sonia Gandhi is known for her dignified sartorial choices. And she is conscious of it because speaking at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Raebareli, she said: “There is a trend in Indian fashion to overdo and over-embellish clothes. Apart from completely overshadowing the wearer, such garments are very uncomfortable to wear.” Ah! Can’t help but say, You can take an Italian out of fashion, but can never take fashion out of an Italian.

Along with attire, one needs some action and emotion. So how can we forget the ‘crying family’ scene from 2019. We have heard candidates doling out cash and liquor for votes but in Karnataka, JD(S) leaders dole out tears. In 2019, former PM H.D. Deve Gowda, his son H.D. Kumaraswamy and his grandson Prajwal Revanna shed tears asking for votes. Even the other son H.D. Revanna, who was then the Public Works Minister, shed tears like he should have been the Water Works (Resources) Minister !

Of course, our PM is a fashionista. From his clothes to his now snowy white, wizard Gandalf-like white beard. In Modi’s first visit to the US after becoming  PM, The New York Times newspaper wrote an article about him titled ‘A Leader Who Is What He Wears.’ The Washington Post stated, “Move aside, Michelle Obama. The world has a new fashion icon. And no, it’s not Vladimir Putin, despite his fitness regimen — it’s India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.”

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Now, in Bengal Mamata is deploying her drama skills no doubt. After all, she came to the spotlight through theatrics related to a car! 

In 1970s, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP),  who led a mass movement against the Emergency, toured the country organising protests. One of his stops was Calcutta (Kolkata). As his convoy entered the city, a young Mamata Banerjee, then a Congress youth worker,  threw herself in front of JP’s car and then hopped onto the bonnet of the car to stop JP from organising a protest against the Emergency! Oh yes, Didi was FOR the Emergency! Ironically, just three years ago,  in 2018 she paid tribute to JP during his birth anniversary in Kolkata! Ah! Politics.

Mamata is a tough woman who has to be credited for ending the 34-year fear-induced rule of Communist Parties in West Bengal. She physically fought with men on the streets of Bengal ending up with a skull fracture while also wrapping a black shawl around her neck threatening to immolate herself.

Now, BJP is playing on a pitch, where Mamata Banerjee built her political career — the streets of West Bengal. She is a brave woman and a brawler who also knows the power of drama in politics. So may be, PM Modi has met his match when it comes to lights, camera, action… Time to say Cut?

P.S: Speaking of perception, does anyone think that late President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was not conscious that he was sporting an outdated 60s hairstyle? No. It was an image he obviously created and cultivated for himself. Image of a humble scientist who had so much on his mind that he did not care what was on his head. Well, his haircut may have looked like it never came out of the 1960s but the price was not — it cost the late President Rs. 500 per haircut at Habib’s Salon in Delhi.

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ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Lights,‌ ‌camera,‌ ‌action…‌ ‌”

  1. Srikrishna Bhagwan says:

    One of the other reason why Sarojini Naidu said, “It cost the party (the Congress) a fortune to keep Gandhiji in poverty.” is whenever Gandhiji travelled around in the country , a big group of more than 100 people used to travel along with him that made the party to book the entire bogie of the train which was later copied by our politicians and their chellas.


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