West Bengal polls: Meeting people with real issues makes cinema larger than life, says Saayoni Ghosh

Sayantan Ghosh
·7-min read

New Delhi/Kolkata: There is no vanity van, no roadshows, no bikes or cars either. In the scorching humid summer of Bengal, she has been walking through the narrow lanes of the rural areas of the Asansol South constituency for the past three weeks and going door to door asking for votes. Comfortable in saree and sneakers with a mandatory sunglass and a little eye make-up actress turned TMC candidate Saayoni Ghosh has already become popular among the people of Asansol South Constituency.

This time Ghosh a Calcutta University graduate is taking on BJP candidate and fashion designer Agnimitra Paul. With the rising summer heat, the political heat of the heavyweight Assansol South seat of West Bardhaman district is also increasing.

Ghosh is a well-known name among the film lovers of Kolkata and Bengal. She has worked on a number of web series and films but it is considered that her audience reach has been limited to Kolkata.

"I was under the impression that I have always had a very niche audience. But after coming here and starting the campaign my views have entirely changed. I am getting an overwhelming response. I never knew that so many people out of Kolkata love and appreciate my work so much," says Ghosh after finishing her day-long campaign.

Celebrities joining political parties and fighting election is nothing new across India. Moreover, in Bengal, it has been a steady trend and this year both Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and BJP have given tickets to many celebrities. Before the 2021 election, there was a wave of celebrities joining both parties. It seems like that the Bengali film industry popularly known as Tollywood has got divided mostly between two political camps.

Ghosh says, "Mamata Banerjee has given me a big responsibility and interestingly I am adapting to this new journey quite organically. Just that the former is reel and the latter is real."

In her low-key campaign, she is being seen always gelling up with the people quite easily and talking to people, taking blessings of senior citizens, and even playing cricket with the children of her constituency. Amid such hectic campaigns also she is always ready to click selfies whenever people are approaching her. "Khela Hobe" (the game will happen) is her favourite slogan just like TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee.

'Khela Hobe': TMC candidate Saayoni Ghosh during a campaign at Asansol South constituency.
'Khela Hobe': TMC candidate Saayoni Ghosh during a campaign at Asansol South constituency.

'Khela Hobe': TMC candidate Saayoni Ghosh during a campaign at Asansol South constituency.

Ghosh says, "I am continuously having dialogues with the people and listening to their issues. Access to drinking water is a key issue in the area and my priority would be to solve this issue."

It is considered that after winning the elections the celebrities go back to their life of light, camera and action and do not work for the people. Ghosh disagrees with such a stereotype and says that be it a politician or a celebrity turned politician only time will speak about work.

"I have a feeling that I am going to be a full-time politician. When you meet people with real issues such roti, kapda, makan, bijli, sadak, pani, shiksha, swasth then cinema indeed does look larger than life. But acting continues to be close to my heart. I would like to work on a project if it's worthy of my time because my people are worth every minute of my life," she says.

After bifurcation, the Asansol South has been a stronghold of the TMC. In the last two consecutive elections TMC leader, Tapas Banerjee won from the seat. On the other hand, the Asansol Lok Sabha Constituency is with the BJP and the MP is Central Minister of State Babul Supriyo who is also fighting the Assembly election from the Tollygunge constituency of Bengal.

Asansol is a Hindu-dominated area and according to the last census it has around 75 percent of the Hindu population and 21 percent Muslim population. Despite BJP having its MP, the Assembly seats are with the TMC and with CPM.

On 26 March 2018, the Asansol riot broke out reportedly due to a procession of Raam Navami. This time the BJP has not announced any chief ministerial face for Bengal. However, BJP has claimed that the chief minister will be a "Bhumiputra" (son of the soil).

"The result of the Lok Sabha election does not matter. Assembly election is fought on the local issues. The BJP is only counting on the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Only banking on Modi will not help in this election and in the long run for the BJP," says Ghosh.

Before joining politics also Ghosh has been a vocal critic of the BJP. On various occasions, the BJP has come down heavily on Ghosh and supporters have repeatedly trolled her over an old tweet that allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of people. According to a media report, "Former Tripura Governor and Bengal BJP leader Tathagata Roy lodged a police complaint against actor Saayoni Ghosh for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus through a post on Twitter."

The moment this matter came to light Ghosh not only deleted that tweet but also apologised. On a social media post, Ghosh wrote, "The moment I was made aware of that [the post], I heavily criticized it and deleted it immediately after informing the public. I never had any intention to hurt the sentiment of my own religion," she said.

Moreover according to a media report, "Responding to Tathagata Roy, Saayoni Ghosh said that she was deeply saddened by the "harassment" and that the alleged post was uploaded in 2015 without her knowledge."

Ghosh says, "I have always been vocal about social and political issues. But I have realised that to fight these forces it is important to be in professional politics because one must step out and face the ground reality. And once given a chance or choice, it's now or never."

Even after Ghosh was announced as the candidate her own opponent from the seat BJP's Agnimitra Paul also recently made derogatory comments against her.

Ghosh says, "No one can go too far by demeaning others and this is true for the BJP here in this context. They can not go too far with such comments. In Bengal, BJP has no agenda to fight the election. The only thing BJP knows is to distract and divide that is what they are trying.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, 41 percent of TMC candidates were women and this time also in the Assembly election Mamata has given tickets to around 50 women. The women are also considered as the key voter base for Mamata Banerjee. However, on the other hand, starting from Bengal BJP chief to the other leaders, the BJP has made many controversial comments against women including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the election campaign.

Ghosh says, "Didi (Mamata Banerjee) has always upheld the importance of women in each realm of the society and politics. BJP lags far behind. The BJP neither has women's representation nor has respect for women. They are more words and less about works."

Confident about her victory she says that the local leadership of the TMC is standing shoulder to shoulder with her during the campaign and helping her to increase her reach.

As nothing is static or defined in politics and life, from reel life to the real battlefield the destination of Ghosh's journey will be determined by the people of Asansol South on 26 April (the poll date).

The author is a fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre and an independent journalist who writes on issues of governance and politics. The author can be reached at @sayantan_gh

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