Urmila Matondkar, best known for her critically and commercially acclaimed roles in films like Rangeela, Satya and Kaun, joined the Congress recently and is now its candidate for the Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency. With sitting MP and BJP heavyweight Gopal Shetty as her rival, many believe Urmila has been fielded from the seat because the Congress-NCP alliance had no winning candidate to offer. Urmila, of course, thinks differently. She spoke to Puneet Nicholas Yadav on her political debut and why she believes the BJP must be voted out. Excerpts from the interview:
BJP sympathisers have made malicious attacks on you. For example, the fact that your husband is a Kashmiri Muslim has been used to question your nationalism.
Now they are claiming that my husband is a Pakistani national. This is exactly the kind of vitiated political and social atmosphere that forced me to join politics. For any problem that India faces today, the Narendra Modi government wants you to believe that Nehru and Gandhi are responsible. What about the failures of Narendra Modi and the BJP? Why is my religion, or the religion of my husband, an election issue? Why is the lack of jobs, the suicide of farmers or the assault on our institutions not the issue? They spend thousands of crores on self-promotion and for this troll machinery that targets opponents. If Modi and Amit Shah had spent this money on helping the poor, our farmers would not have been forced to commit suicide.
We have seen film directors and actors increasingly question the patriotism of anybody from the industry who says freedom of expression has come under strain.
In Hollywood or film industries elsewhere, there has always been a strong element of socio-political awareness, and a commitment towards speaking out against oppressive regimes…. Marlon Brando had refused to receive his Oscar and instead asked a Native American girl to go to the ceremony on his behalf so she could speak against the stereotypical portrayal of natives that Hollywood was then known for. We have not seen that kind of activism here. But, you also need to understand that the film industry is a vulnerable target for political bullying. The success and longevity of actors is shortlived as our industry is influenced by many external factors. Being on the wrong side of political power has a heavy price. But just because actors line up to get their pictures clicked with the prime minister, sometimes out of fear of the consequences of saying no to Modi, it does not mean they also endorse his politics or would vote for him.
You are pitted against a candidate who has vast electoral experience. Even people within the Mumbai Congress claim Gopal Shetty is invincible and you are being made a scapegoat.
There is one important thing people who believe I will lose are excluding from the equation—the power of the people. People are not happy with him (Shetty)…many have not seen him in the past five years. If the people are unhappy with your work, all your muscle and money power, and your propaganda, will go kaput when the vote is cast. And everyone is invincible until they face defeat.