MUMBAI: Better known for its romantic escapism, Bollywood is releasing a series of political satires during India’s election season that poke fun at corrupt lawmakers and religious tensions.
Featuring a goat, a ghost and a disputed dead body, three upcoming releases are aimed at making voters think before they cast their ballots — although none refers directly to real-life candidates.
In family entertainer “Bhoothnath Returns,” opening Friday, Bollywood’s biggest legend Amitabh Bachchan plays a friendly ghost who takes on an evil and corrupt local politician at the polls.
The comedy horror film “gives a serious message of voting through its storyline,” Bachchan told the Press Trust of India news agency.
“One vote can bring a sea-change in our country and I feel youth should participate in large numbers to bring that change,” said the 71-year-old, who has a history of politically-themed movies.
Director Nitesh Tiwari said the film is about the virtues of “sacrifice, courage and patriotism.”
“I hope children think this is how they want the future of their country to be, while adults should think that this is the difference they can make to the present. The theme is that we can all make a difference,” Tiwari said.
Also opening next month is “Yeh Hai Bakrapur” (“This is Bakrapur“), a socio-political satire which explores the complex belief systems in rural India through the story of a pet goat who acquires celebrity status in his village and surroundings.
Director Janaki Vishwanathan said she consciously chose to release her film bang in the middle of the world’s biggest elections.
“I believe that every decision we make in our life has a political angle — not only in terms of government and ministers but also the politics in daily life,” she told AFP.
“My film explores how the individual benefits from the larger politics and vice versa.”
“Dekh Tamasha Dekh” (“Watch the Spectacle“), releasing on April 18, is based on a true story recounted by a former police commissioner to director Feroz Abbas Khan, in which a poor man is crushed under the weight of a politician’s giant billboard.
Two groups subsequently claim the body as their own.
The film “was made to go out there at a time when people are in the frame of mind to make a very important decision, and at a time when they should know that this is all a big spectacle,” Khan said.
The results of India’s mammoth general elections are due on May 16, nearly six weeks after the start of voting.
The contest is largely between Narendra Modi of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress party, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister.
The film “Youngistaan,” released on March 28, tells the story of a young prime minister struggling to balance his personal life with public office after taking on the job when his father dies — a character that several reports have likened to Gandhi’s own.
The lead actor Jackky Bhagnani denies that he is portraying the real-life politician — perhaps luckily for Gandhi, given that one critic described the movie as “brain-dead and largely insufferable.”
Bollywood has run up against politicians in the past, with films such as “Aandhi” (Storm) in 1975, allegedly based on the life of Indira Gandhi, Rahul’s grandmother and prime minister at the time.
She banned the film, which only released two years later after her electoral defeat.
Political issues have also been satirised in films such as the cult 1983 hit “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro” (“Let it be, friends“) about exposing corruption, and “Peepli Live” in 2010 on the topic of farmer suicides.
A number of Indian film stars have gone into politics, capitalizing on their vast fan base.
One of the top regional politicians contesting this election is Jayalalithaa Jayaram, chief minister of Tamil Nadu state and a former siren of southern Indian cinema, whose party was set up by her late on-screen love interest M.G. Ramachandran.
In the northern state of Chandigarh, the actresses Kirron Kher and Gul Panag are going head-to-head for the BJP and the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party respectively.
One of Bollywood’s biggest names, Aamir Khan, is the face of a campaign to encourage voting — but it seems a number of actors will themselves be skipping the polling booths.
Voting day in Mumbai, the entertainment capital, clashes with a grand Bollywood awards ceremony in the United States, so the showbiz set are expected to decamp to Florida for a long weekend.