Mahesh Manjrekar, actor-director-politician, almost opted out of contesting as a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) candidate in the Mumbai Northwest Lok Sabha constituency because he found conditions in the slums in the city appalling.
“I actually told Rajsaheb [party chief Raj Thackeray] that it is impossible for me to work in such conditions. But he was confident that improvements were possible, so I decided to stick to the decision,” Mr. Manjrekar, 55, told The Hindu.
In fact, it was Mr. Raj Thackeray, his close friend, who convinced the actor to contest the election against sitting Congress MP Gurudas Kamat.
For an artiste, well known in political circles across parties and a classmate of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, entry into politics was hardly a bolt from the blue. “The issue was whether to jump into the electoral battle or not,” he said.
Standing outside the bustling Andheri railway station in suburban Mumbai, away from his air-conditioned SUV convoy, Mr. Manjrekar was greeted by people jostling to take his pictures with their cellphones. No stranger to attention, Mr. Manjrekar obliged with a pose or two.
Outside the railway station, he was surrounded by a number of hawkers, many of them non-Marathi speakers, who narrated the problems they face daily. They told him about the bribes demanded by municipal officials and the police. Ironically, he represents a party that has beaten up “outsiders” in the past, under the pretext of promoting the cause of “sons of the soil.”
“He is a film star. He wanted to know about our problems and we are glad that he promised help,” says Sayyad Ibrahim, a hawker who met him.
“I appeal to everyone to vote for me. If you stay in Maharashtra, then you are a Maharashtrian, no matter which language you speak,” says Mr. Manjrekar, who concedes that he thinks in English. His directorial debut in Bollywood with Vastav starring Sanjay Dutt earned him national success, followed by films such as Astitva, Kurukshetra and Viruddh.
In 2009, the MNS polled around 1.24 lakh votes in Mumbai Northwest, which helped the Congress to win the seat by 38,387 votes.
This time, the Shiv Sena has fielded Gajanan Kirtikar. The Aam Adami Party candidate is anti-corruption activist Mayank Gandhi, while small-time Bollywood actor Kamal R. Khan will be contesting on the Samajwadi Party ticket.
Mr. Kirtikar has accused the actor of having links with the underworld, citing a 14-year-old conversation between him and the underworld don Chhota Shakil. “These are absolutely baseless allegations,” he said.