Small to Big Screen: The Changing Face of Election Campaigns

(by Raj Narayan)

Over the last decade or so, as the media shifted from the big to the small screen, with cell phones becoming the ubiquitous platform for content, our political class is swimming against the tide, moving from the small to the big when it comes to marketing themselves and their ideologies.

As a kid growing up in the national capital during the 1970s, elections used to mean giveaways from political parties – not that we had too many of them around those days! There would be party flags, pin-up symbols, flash cards with flashier poll promises… a whole lot of goodies that turned even children into willful participants in an exercise of universal adult franchise.

The years rolled by and, during the 1980s, these goodies were replaced by the Poori-Chhole-Halwa packets distributed quite liberally by representatives of the candidates, often from the same ‘mithai store’ in the neighborhood. But, who cared? We were happy as long as we got our refreshments in between our gully cricket games.

The 1990s took away all the fun and games to the extent that politicians even figured out the futility of door-to-door campaigns. In fact, many even stopped taking the trouble of addressing party meetings in their constituencies, especially in the cities. They appeared atop open vehicles throwing pamphlets or garlands, stopping briefly to speak into a megaphone that made speeches as grotesque to the ear as to the intellect.

The turn of the millennium brought 24-hour news channels. For politicians, it meant broadcasting to their whole constituency; for the voter it meant the mute button on the remote; and the for the children it meant a total alienation to the process of universal adult franchise – in other words they totally ignored the democratic process of choosing their representative from a cluster of candidates chosen by their respective political dispensations on dubious grounds.

Another decade and television studios started playing second fiddle to the social media platforms that allowed the politicians to be in control of what they said. No need to worry about tough questions from politically motivated anchors for whom objectivity was a state of mind that could be attained only after a few drinks and some kababs at the Press Club. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi converted social messaging to a fine art prior to the 2014 polls while his rival Rahul Gandhi was stamped with the ‘Pappu’ tag post a single interview by a blabbermouth anchor.

Now, just when we thought that things have stabilized with both parties and a host of others using the digital media to punch and counter-punch, there came the season of politically motivated biopics.

The first off-the-ground was ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ which presented Dr. Manmohan Singh the way any self-respecting ruling party would present its predecessor, to look like a puppet PM without real power.

Close on the heels came the biopic on Balasaheb Thackeray, a leader who had divided political opinion vertically with his nationalism, but whom the Shiv Sena wants to invoke before the upcoming general elections with a clear view to seek their pound of flesh from any political party that they might choose to align with, be it their old friend BJP or possible associate Congress or even the NCP.

So, that movie was like a refresher course on all the ‘right’ things that Thackeray did during his lifetime while sweeping everything else under the carpet.

As we write this piece, there is news that a journalist of some repute has completed a movie on Congress president Rahul Gandhi that tells the story of the scion of a family that gave not one, not two but three prime ministers to India. Titled ‘My Name is RaGa’, the movie tracks the life of Rahul Gandhi, post the assassination of his grandmother till the moment when he was elevated to head the grand old party of India.

Would these movies make an impression on the voters? Only time will tell. What they’re doing now, though, is keeping good movie-makers away from the theatres for some time!