(From left) Nepaldeb Bhattacharya, Arunava Ghosh, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Firhad Hakim, anchor Suman De, Chiranjit, Bratya Basu, Biplab Chatterjee and George Baker at the ABP Ananda Jukti Takko, partnered by The Telegraph. (Rashbehari Das)
• The event: ABP Ananda Jukti Takko, partnered by The Telegraph
• The motion: Actor-ra factor noy. Abhineta taney bheed. Neta taney vote. (Actors do not matter. They pull crowds, politicians pull votes)
• For the motion: Firhad Hakim, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Arunava Ghosh and Nepaldeb Bhattacharya
• Against the motion: Chiranjit, Bratya Basu, Biplab Chatterjee and George Baker
The battleline for the war of words at Park Plaza was drawn in a way that two ministers of the state government were enlisted in opposing camps, as were two theatre personalities, leading anchor Suman De to express mock-fear of cross-voting.
The opening salvo was fired by Hakim, who eased into his seat with seconds to go for the live telecast. Dressed in typical neta-gear, he underlined that it is work at the ground level which translates into votes.
“In 1991, when Victor Banerjee was fielded by the BJP in Calcutta Northwest, such was the euphoria and postering, it seemed as if he was all set to win. But he lost his deposit and the sitting MP (Debi Pal of the Congress) won. People want to know what a candidate has done for them. Mamata Banerjee is trusted as people know she has a lifetime of struggle behind her.”
Actor Chiranjit, a first-time MLA, started filmi-style, with a song on his lips. He stressed that an actor’s on-screen image works for him if he does roles that show him to be honest, dependable and on the side of the poor. That must have made teammate Biplab Chatterjee squirm. The screen villain had lost both times he contested in polls.
But Chiranjit claimed he was not banking on his image alone. “The last couple of years I have barely signed any movies. I wanted to know how the job is done. Next time, people will think of my contributions too.”
The next two speakers for the motion were the most vitriolic in their attacks. Arunava Ghosh dismissed actors as “dhoper naach” that happens before a jatra starts. “They sing and dance and keep the audience entertained before a Mamata or a Modi arrives. What’s the use of face powder without a face?”
Amitabh Bachchan’s victory over the seasoned H.N. Bahuguna in 1984, Ghosh pointed out, came “over the dead body of Indira Gandhi”, in the shadow of whose assassination the polls had taken place.
Suman Mukhopadhyay expressed concern at so many actors being fielded. “Next we know, Parliament will be turned into a shooting floor while political leaders will sit outside and discuss movies. If a footballer is asked to play the sitar, is he likely to succeed?”
He allegorised the situation through a Mollah Naseeruddin lore. A neighbour had asked Mollah for the use of his donkey but he denied he had one. When the donkey brayed from within, the neighbour claimed this was proof enough. Mollah said he would not talk to a man who trusted a donkey more than a fellow human being. “Politicians decide when their donkey would bray,” he said, implying that the actors were puppets in the hands of leaders, no more.
Bratya Basu brilliantly countered with another allegory, this time of the cow who went to a bar and ordered beer. “When it paid for the drink and was leaving, the barman said it was the first time he was seeing a cow drinking in a bar. The cow retorted that it would be the last, the drink was so bad.” Basu left it at that, leaving the audience to induce that actors may be novices in politics but are sensible enough to separate wheat from chaff.
He also made a distinction between an actor and a star. “Both Shriram Lagoo and Shah Rukh Khan are actors but they have different images. If we are talking of crowd-pulling power, we should be talking of the stars. And there is no denying that if India has a unifying culture, it is our cinema.” The last comment would later come under attack from his comrade-in-theatre Suman.
Chatterjee spoke of people’s disillusionment with politicians. “That is why the ‘None Of The Above’ option is coming into play in the ballot paper.”
Election debutant George Baker, a BJP candidate this time, cited successful actor-turned-politicians in the US like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Countering accusations that actors, even if they win, do not bother to return to the constituency (Raidighi MLA Debasree Roy being a case in point), he said even politicians fail to keep poll promises.
Nepaldeb Bhattacharya scored for both his side and his party. “Actors who cry according to demands of the script do not do so at the sufferings of people. When a political force becomes bankrupt, it turns to actors.” His party CPM has not fielded any actor.
Verdict: The motion was defeated.