In starry-eyed North Mumbai, Urmila Matondkar banks on personal connect

Komal RJ Panchal
Congress candidate Urmila Matondkar after filing her nomination for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at Bandra collector's office. (Express photo: Pradip Das)

Urmila Matondkar is not the Rangeela girl we know anymore. She is the Congress candidate from Mumbai North Parliamentary constituency. As stars are used to, she too announced the news of her political role via her Instagram account.

Her pitch is clear: the star says she was charged up about joining the party which believes in the secular fabric of our society, and the democratic set up of our nation, and the supremacy of the Indian Constitution which safeguards freedom and equality for all.

Whether she realises it or not, Urmila Matondkar has changed. As she starts campaigning, she dons a different persona. There are no tall promises when she goes out seeking votes, just an effort to make a bond with everyone she meets. She's constantly sipping tea with her voters, dancing to Marathi dhol-tasha and lezim while celebrating Gudi Padwa, or playing cricket with youngsters.

Actress Urmila Matondkar at Kandiwali Congress office. (Express photo: Dilip Kagda)

That she's able to make a connect with the people is clear. But it is hard to tell if it is her fading stardom or the promise of an ascending politician that attracts people. Is that person in the rally a genuine voter or just another starry-eyed fan?

Urmila joins a long list of female stars who have joined politics - Jayalalithaa, Hema Malini and Jaya Prada to name a few. But only a few of them are taken seriously and for that they have had to consciously wash their facade of glamour. Urmila seems to have some idea where she is headed: so she's moved to handspun cotton sarees and simple shalwar kameez with minimal make-up and nude nails.

Being a candidate is tough and Urmila has realised that from the day she announced her nomination. On a Sunday morning, she's meeting senior citizens at a laughter club in Borivali's Sai Baba Nagar. She calls them "young at heart" ands is soon welcomed with open arms. She interacts with them as if it's a daughter talking to her parents. This takes Bollywood out of the picture in an instant. There is no glamour here, no airs... maybe a hint of genuineness.

Mumbai Congress President Milind Deora at the opening of Central Election Office of Congress candidate Urmila Matondkar at Borivali. (Express photo: Dilip Kagda)

She also joins a bunch of youth playing cricket at a ground in Borivali. With every ball she faces, she seems closer to another voter. Asked how it felt playing cricket with a star, one of the players on the ground quips: "She used to be a star, where has she done any films recently?"

Stars are not new to this constituency. In fact, Govinda was elected MP from North Mumbai in 2004. Interestingly, the two have been paired in two movies - Hum Tumpe Marte Hai (1999) and Kunwara (2000). But the two are different. Govinda always had security personnel around him to guard him, Urmila comes across as more candid with just a handful of party workers to accompany her.

If Govinda’s biggest competition was BJP’s Ram Naik, Urmila has to oust BJP's sitting MP Gopal Shetty. Shetty recently called Urmila "Bholi bhaali ladki", taking from a mid-1990s Bollywood hit.

The Congress candidate for the Mumbai North constituency, Urmila Matondkar celebrates ‘Gudi Padwa’, the Marathi New Year at At Charkop Kanpali. (Express photo: Dilip Kagda)

Mili Joshi, a political science student and a first-time voter says Urmila is a good face and will attract crowds, but Gopal Shetty is a stronger candidate. Urmila is contesting for the first time but Gopal Shetty has a body of work behind him. It would be a different clash this time. We can’t predict who will win, but her star-power might just attract some voters, if not many."

She's also playing the Marathi card well. On the morning of Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian new year, Urmila, draped in a navvari saree (nine yard saree), danced and played lezim with the women. She also played ‘dhol-tasha’ with the celebratory band. And she has started calling herself "Mumbaichi Mulagi" (the daughter of Mumbai).

He rhetoric plays on the burning issues. She's designed her campaigns on making the "secular fibre of out country stronger" and "trying to get rid of the hate politics". These themes are constant in her speeches.

Hardik Patel and Urmila Matondkar at the Yuva Sammelan. (Express photo by Dilip Kagda)

But will the star angle also weigh in when the voters queue up to excise their franchise? Moman, who owns a laundry in Kanpali, says: "Obviously, I have seen Urmila Matondkar’s films, but that has been years ago. For now, she doesn’t come across as an actor. She wears normal clothes and doesn't look glamorous, but she has a great connect with people, I feel."

Siddharth Pandit, a young chef who stays in Dahisar, says it’s disheartening to see Urmila still being looked at just as pretty face and nothing beyond. "Shetty must be a stronger contender but all he has done is build gardens. It will be interesting to see if given a chance what steps Matondkar takes to bring about a change."