| Govinda with Sonia Gandhi at a rally
Mumbai, April 22: Bhatigaon, a fishing village in Madh Island, Malad. The streets are lined on both sides with curtains of small fish left to dry from bamboo poles — and for the uninitiated, they are stinking to the heavens. But it would be no surprise if the dead fish sprang back to life.
That’s the effect Govinda has had on all forms of life around him. He gets off his air-conditioned black Ford and climbs into an open-hood tricoloured jeep. He is wearing an embroidered kurta-churidar of fine white cotton, has donned a yellow pagdi with red print, Rajasthani style, and has bygone-babe Zeenat Aman by his side.
“I will not make long speeches,” says the actor. “I promise to bring four basic amenities: pravas (clothes; though the orthodox would think it meant exile); avas (home); gyan (education) and swasthya (health).” Or, PAGS, in short. Then he lunges straight at his critics (Ram Naik, the BJP candidate in North Mumbai who has won five times from here).
“My critics say I am an actor, I am good for the screen alone, I speak in verses that mean nothing. But let me tell you in poetry: Meri har kavita vastavikata hogi; mera har pravachan vachan hoga,” he flashes his smile. His teeth are blindingly white.
Zeenat chimes in. In a white salwar-kameez and oxidised silver jewellery, the still-attractive actor says: “They call us nachne gaane wale. But let me tell you we sell our art for a living, but never our integrity (iman nahin bechte).” Resounding roar from the audience, a sizeable chunk of which are women with aarti thalis and children much below the voting age.
In the background plays the song “Govinda ala re ala”.
The deafening applause to the “coming” has reached the ears of the Opposition. Though there is scepticism about how many of the numbers at Bollywood’s Chhote Miyan’s meetings will tinkle in the box office on poll day, Naik is under pressure.
He is accused of absenteeism in his constituency, of pandering to the middle and upper classes, and now an MLA from the area, Hemendra Mehta, has been accused of abetting the suicide of a young man. On top of that, the petroleum minister whose name was smeared with dirt in the petrol pump scam now has to fight a screen god’s charisma.
In contrast, Govinda travels light — his only burden seems to be close friend Hitendra Thakur, the brother of gangster Bhai Thakur.
Hitendra’s friendship has earned him cold-shoulders in his party. But Govinda defends him as a childhood friend and refuses to be dragged into any controversy. “We were at school together and I have known him for years,” he says cryptically.
No wonder Naik has resorted to personal vilification. A major part of his speech is devoted to Govinda’s lack of ability. “Abhineta aur neta alag baat hai,” says Naik, adding condescendingly that he doesn’t compare when it comes to Govinda’s “rang and roop”.
Govinda says he doesn’t care. Back into the car, he asks: “How many'” “Thirteen,” answers the man in the back seat. “We will do 12 to 13 more such meetings this evening,” Govinda says, taking off his pagdi.
Travelling with him is his fully filmi set. The man in the back seat is Govinda’s dresswala who is always with him with the changes of dress; his PR manager is his film secretary and a cousin, who says he has acted in Aamdani Athani, starring his famous relative, is the other escort.
“I am here for service,” Govinda says, reacting to Naik’s charges. “He is the older person. I don’t want to raise my voice against him.” The car makes an impromptu stop with a throng of women and children waiting by the roadside.
But the abhineta, a little on the plump side (“ladla Govinda nahin, Dalda Govinda”), scoffs one of his party supporters in an aside is still not very used to the exertions of a campaign. Arclight is one thing, sunlight quite another. He looks ready to burst from the heat, his fair skin reddened from the sun. He loosens the kurta at the neck and asks for an ointment — he is about to lose his voice.
Lunch is also a long leisurely break. He stops at the McDonald’s at Borivli. Then he hops across to the Congress office next door. An hour later, he emerges, looking refreshed, the pagdi still perched on the head, but in a white shirt and white corduroys in which he seems to have been poured into.
Next stop: a big meeting at Dahisar, where not only Zeenat, but the chief ministers of Delhi and Maharashtra Sheila Dikshit and Sushil Kumar Shinde will be present, not to mention the maverick from the Republican Party of India, Ramdas Athawale. The Congress has pressed its powers that be into Govinda’s service; this week Sonia Gandhi addressed a rally in Vasai for the first time for Govinda.
At Rawalpara in Dahisar East, there are thousands waiting. Children are on top of trees, in window seats, on the top of cars. The star is soon joined by the political heavyweights. Dikshit exhorts the crowds to do the right thing by voting for Govinda, so does Shinde. Athawale adds his own poetry: “Govinda ala re ala; Ram Naik gela re gela.”