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3 months ago

There is, yes, life after the movies

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The actor Ferdous is a candidate for the forthcoming general election in January next year from the ruling Awami League. His selection as a candidate follows in the tradition set by others of his profession in these past many years. To what extent showbiz personalities enrich politics remains a question, but what is obvious is that voters are often swayed by the screen images of the artistes they admire, enough to vote them into parliament. As we speak, another actor, having failed to come by a ruling party nomination for parliament, has decided to go into the election as an independent candidate.

One recalls the thespian Amitabh Bachchan becoming a Congress candidate for parliament in the 1980s, thanks to his good friend Rajiv Gandhi, and thoroughly beating the very experienced Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna at the election. But whether Bachchan was able to make any significant contribution to Indian politics is a question that might be debated. In any case, Bachchan soon made his exit from politics and back to filmdom. It was a decision that was wise. Perhaps he should not have gone into politics. Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand never did.

In Bangladesh, there has been the accomplished artiste Kabori, who was elected a member of the Jatiya Sangsad from Narayanganj but soon found herself busy waging battle with people in her own party, those who were unhappy at the prominence given to her in politics. The recently deceased actor Farook was also in parliament, but ill health prevented him from playing the sort of role one expected of him. Had he been in good health, he would be an asset in national politics. His commitment to the nation, to values was never in doubt. Anwar Hossain, he of Sirajuddoulah fame, once joined the Muslim League. But then nothing more was heard about it.

There have been others, Asaduzzaman Noor and Tarana Halim for instance, who have played important roles in parliament. Halim has not been given a nomination by the ruling party this time, but people who know her for the eloquent voice she has always been will know too that her future in politics is not over yet. Meanwhile, prior to the last election in 2018, a prominent actress of the 1960s and 1970s - she earned renown by her performances in both Urdu and Bangla movies - expressed her desire for a parliamentary nomination. She did not get it.

The participation of actors in politics has been a reality in our times. The most famous instance of an actor making his mark in politics is that of Ronald Reagan, whose career in the film industry was not much to write home about. But his interest in politics, coupled with his affable personality, was to take him all the way to the governorship of the state of California and eventually to the White House. The actor Clint Eastwood once served as mayor of the charming, small Californian town of Carmel. Peter Lawford never went into politics, but his marriage to a Kennedy brought him in close connection with politics.

Glenda Jackson was a formidable actor in Britain. Her bold performances were a broad sign of the realism she wished to base her acting on. Once her film career was over, or was brought to an end by herself, she focused on national politics. She aligned herself with the Labour Party and entered parliament, where she did very well. Her understanding of politics, her comprehension of foreign affairs marked her out as one of the best additions to the House of Commons in modern times. 

In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky was an actor who specialised in comedy roles on television, where he played the character of his country's President. Destiny would take Zelensky to the actual presidency, where today, in an embattled condition, he provides desperate leadership to Ukrainians in the war imposed on them by Russia.

In Pakistan, the actor Mohammad Ali was once associated with the Pakistan People's Party but after Bhutto's execution he is known to have switched loyalties to the Muslim League. In neighbouring India, apart from Amitabh Bachchan, there have been other artistes who have made their way into politics and indeed into parliament. Whether or not they were able to make a difference in politics is a matter for historians to dwell on. 

But it noted, though, that these actors brought, if nothing else, a dash of glamour to Indian politics. Shatrughan Sinha, Rajesh Khanna, Jayaprada, Nargis, Jaya Bhaduri, Raj Babbar, Smriti Irani, Vinod Khanna, Sunil Dutt, Hema Malini, Kamaalhasan, Mithun Chakraborty, Dipankar De and a host of others at some point found in politics a new home. How effective or rich were their contributions to politics? 

The seductive Ilona Staller, popularly known as Cicciolina, was a Hungarian-born porn actor who subsequently was elected to the Italian parliament. She made no mark in politics, unless her status as a sex symbol could be considered a part of the politics she represented. She was more amusement than politician.

In recent years, it has not only been actors but people from other fields of life who have been making a foray into politics. University teachers, superannuated civil and military officials, journalists, businessmen, medical personalities and sportsmen have clearly felt the need to make their contributions in politics, which is just as well. It only goes to show how the shape of politics could be changing. 

In the old days, Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong later condemned as one of the Gang of Four, was an actress when she met her future husband. Cambodia's Norodom Sihanouk combined in himself the roles of head of state, singer, lyricist and actor. Nancy Reagan, like her husband, was an actress who in the White House engaged in séances as a way of ensuring that no evil befell her husband.

Yul Edochie in Nigeria and John Dumelo in Ghana decided, at a certain phase of their careers as actors, that they could transform their artistic experience into an articulation of passion necessary for the social uplift of the deprived sections of the community. Judith Babirye in Uganda and Desmond Elliot in Nigeria are some other screen personalities who have made the journey into politics.

Politics, one could suggest, has been broadening out into areas never previously imagined. In Bangladesh, the singer Momtaz has been a member of parliament. Years ago, the astronaut John Glenn reinvented himself as a US senator. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once tried to get elected as President. Of course he did not succeed. 

Let's call it a day. 

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