|Moon Moon Sen campaigns in Saltora on Saturday. Picture by Rashbehari Das
After a morning of meetings and roadshows, Moon Moon Sen is taking a breather inside a bungalow at the foot of the picturesque Biharinath Hills. Dressed in a green chiffon sari, feet clad in Crocs slippers, Moon Moon cleans her face that is devoid of make-up with a baby wipe and sticks on and a big red bindi.
Daughters Raima and Riya will be with her on the second round.
Moon Moon, the Trinamul candidate from Bankura, has a point to make.
“I don’t know why politicians or reporters have this idea that artistes don’t know anything about politics. We know how to communicate with people, how to handle ourselves and draw a huge crowd so why even ask what an artiste is going to do in the political field. They’re probably going to be better at it than politicians themselves,” she says.
Then comes the caveat. “Also, I have never had a beauty regimen.”
“I’m an actress but I’m not vain. And what regimen will I follow here? Locals here wear masks because the dust has iron particles but I don’t. Neither do I wear shades. The little foundation I use is medicated and people like to talk about that, maybe because in India they aren’t aware of skin cancer.”
Moon Moon has pitched her tent here for over a month. She had left from Hotel Saptaparna in Bankura town, where she has been staying, at 8am and had been visiting villages. After lunch, she will campaign till nightfall.
As the Innova carrying Moon Moon, Raima and Riya tries to cut through a sea of people in Saltora, one of the seven Assembly segments of her constituency, Moon Moon rolls down the window, waves and greets people with folded hands, urges her daughters to do the same and turns on her charm.
One thing is clear. In these 40 days, her Bengali has less of an “English” accent, her speeches are longer and more spontaneous. People love it.
“Ki go? Hashle na, haath narale na… vote korbe na? (What’s the matter? Why didn’t you smile? Why didn’t you wave at me? Won’t you vote?),” she asks sweetly whenever she spots an indifferent face. Sometimes she’ll point at the red hammer and sickle posters on the wall behind them and say: “Oi gulo ki pichhone? Lal lal? Shob amader howa uchit, tai na? (What are those red things? Shouldn’t everything be ours?).” The people break into a smile.
The surge in footfall from Day One to the last days of her campaign suggests a build-up in Moon Moon’s favour.
Srimati Dev Varma is also recognised for being iconic actress Suchitra Sen’s daughter. She narrates how an old man asked her: “Tumi Suchitra’r meye? Aaj theke tumi amader meye, Bankura’r meye (Are you Suchitra’s daughter? Then you are our daughter. Bankura’s daughter).”
Wherever she goes, she is showered with flower petals, women blow conch shells and ululate. Men have moved from cellphone to cameras to capture the Sens.
“Suddenly I heard other parties are coming in a helicopter. They will not stay, Didi will. I will come every month and talk to you. Ami toh politician noi tai amakey shahajyo korte hobe tomader (you have to help me because I am not a politician),” Moon Moon says. The crowd gathered at Pabra More erupts and claps and cheers.
Women and children make up two-thirds of the crowd but Moon Moon sees a positive in that. “If women bring their children out after dark when there aren’t streetlights everywhere, that is a good sign,” she says.
She has visited many areas in Junglemahal. “The Adivasis were very welcoming. They sang and danced for me. Beautiful movements, not out of a Hindi film. In fact those are the movements that should be put into Hindi films,” she says. “Purulia is like paradise. It’s like Thekkady (Kerala). I don’t know why they haven’t encouraged tourism there all these years. They have a strong language and culture of their own which I hope is not going to get destroyed by development.”
Her opponent Basudeb Acharia, the nine-time CPM MP from Bankura, is dismissive about Moon Moon. “Bankura is our home. We are sparing no effort. No celebrity can impact that. The people come to see her. What will she do as an MP?” he asks. “And how much does she know of what conditions this place was in, in the 60s? Ar rasta nei toh uni cholen kibhabe (If there are no roads how does she travel)?”
Moon Moon returns the compliment. “He gives great speeches in Parliament...(But) I haven’t seen his face, people say they never see him either. He hasn’t done any work here and people are very fed up of that. So, they’re poof! No challenge.”
Neither does Moon Moon feel any threat from Modi who gathered a crowd of 50,000 in Bankura. “I’ve covered 5,000km and over 100 villages,” she says.
On the much-discussed roads. “Roads, if you’ve grown up in India, are no big shock but I did not know Bankura did not have water which was a big shock for me. Factories have closed down and you see homes with unemployment, so you wonder what the previous government was doing in Bankura.”
Her ticket was a surprise from Mamata, who was a great support to Moon Moon during Suchitra Sen’s illness and her death in January. Now Moon Moon calls up “magic” Mamata whenever she is in trouble. Or used to. “Whenever I lose it, I call her up and she tells me ‘shanto hou, shob thik hoye jabe (be calm, all will be fine)’. Later I thought why bother her when she’s busy looking after the whole state.”
Her party colleagues put up with her and her eccentricities, she says. “In the middle of a road show if I tell them: ‘Amar oi gamchha gulo chai (I want those cloth wipes)’, someone pulls out the gamchhas for me.”
The most challenging bit? Moon Moon admits has been “waking up at 7! It’s very painful!”
But her work has begun, she says. “I don’t want to be accepted as a doll. A celebrity kathputli who arrives in a chiffon, her hair all done up and then disappears.