Bollywood playing lead role in Modi's push for second term

Actor Ranveer Singh's photo post of himself hugging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gained more than three million likes.
Actor Ranveer Singh's photo post of himself hugging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gained more than three million likes.PHOTO: RANVEEROFFICIAL/TWITTER

MUMBAI/BENGALURU • Early this year, a dozen of Bollywood's biggest names took a private jet from India's film capital of Mumbai to New Delhi for a private audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Subsequently, actor Ranveer Singh, who has nearly 22 million followers on Instagram, posted a picture of himself hugging Mr Modi, with a caption expressing his "joy" at the encounter, drawing more than three million likes.

Bollywood is playing a lead role in Mr Modi's campaign for a second term, endorsing him on screen and off, in both subtle and obvious ways, in a marked shift from the more transactional relationship Indian film stars previously had with politicians.

Mr Modi asked film-makers and stars to "talk about patriotism and Indian culture and values" in their films, said film producer Mahaveer Jain, who organised the Jan 10 meeting. "He recognises the soft power of Bollywood and the impact it can have."

As people younger than 35 form nearly two-thirds of India's population of about 1.3 billion, with more than 15 million voting for the first time in the general election that begins today, approval from the leading stars could be key.

In recent months, Mr Modi has met privately at least four times with several of Bollywood's biggest personalities, most of whom have posted selfies with him on social media.

"Together, we would love to inspire and ignite positive changes towards a transformative India," read a caption on director Karan Johar's Instagram post of a star-studded group selfie with Mr Modi that gained more than one million likes. He thanked the government for cutting taxes on movie tickets.

Bollywood's move to largely embrace Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party contrasts with the United States, where Hollywood has typically taken up liberal-left causes and backed the Democrats, more lately lampooning President Donald Trump and the right-wing Republican Party.

The main opposition Congress party has also sought to woo Bollywood and a separate source said film-makers were invited to meet its leader Rahul Gandhi.

Not everyone is jumping on the Modi bandwagon. More than 800 theatre artists, actors and film-makers urged voters not to back Mr Modi last week but, barring a few, most were independent and documentary film-makers lacking the reach of Bollywood's A-listers.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Bollywood playing lead role in Modi's push for second term'. Print Edition | Subscribe