| Govinda shakes hands with supporters as he starts campaigning in Mumbai on Friday. (Reuters)
Mumbai, March 26: Govinda took a local train to Virar today, travelling second-class as he used to 18 years ago. But he wasn’t whistling old Hindi film numbers, as he would then.
A day after being named the Congress candidate opposite Ram Naik, the actor was more interested in finding out if people’s lives are still as they were when he was struggling to find a foothold in Bollywood.
The Virar ka Chhokra who danced his way to Hero No. 1 via Coolie No. 1 went to Borivli station this morning and bought a ticket for the 40-minute journey to the shabby suburb where he was born and grew up. Virar is part of Mumbai North, the prestigious seat from where he has been fielded against the five-time MP and petroleum minister.
Trademark grin displaced briefly by nostalgia, Govinda said one of the things he missed as a star was whistling old Hindi film numbers, sardined inside a local train — so crowded in the morning and evening rush hour that sometimes passengers get thrown out — as he struggled to find a place in Bollywood. “This train ride has brought back all my old memories,” he said, voice choking, adding that it was almost 18 years since he last took a local.
Back in Virar, where he grew up in the Bazarwar area of the suburb that was not even well connected with Mumbai, the local hero in true filmi style climbed the 1,400 steps to the Jeevdani Mata mandir — using the ropeway would not do — to seek the deity’s blessings. All the way, enthusiastic supporters sent up shouts of “Govinda ala re”.
Yesterday, after his nomination was announced, the actor had promised: “I will travel by local trains in Mumbai and I will take buses just to see how the lowest of the low are living in my constituency. I will try to understand their problems…. I know (what it is like) because I have struggled hard in my early days. Now I want to find out if things have improved or have remained the same.”
Quickly slipping into the politician’s role, he said today: “Nothing has changed, people’s lives have remained the same, their problems have remained where they were. I just want to understand people’s problems without inconveniencing them.”
The actor, who has kept his links with Virar alive even years after moving on to upscale Juhu where he now lives in a swank flat with a view of the sea, has a substantial following in the Virar-Vasai belts. By contributing generously to Ganeshotsav mandalis, in keeping with Mumbai culture, he has also won himself an important vote bank in the youth who see such festivals as a show of strength.
With the petrol pump scam to contend with, Naik cannot expect a cakewalk this time. But he appeared not to be worried. “I have won from the seat five times before and have faced formidable adversaries. My campaigning style will remain the same, it doesn’t matter who the Congress puts up before me.”