Beaming with energy, draped in a traditional white cotton sari with red and orange borders, khol in her eyes, a red bindi on the forehead, and a slight hint of grey in her hair, the BJP candidate from Howrah North, Roopa Ganguly, walks out of her room.
Seated in the drawing room are BJP campaign workers. Hurriedly, they follow her to another room where a meeting is held on the next day’s campaign. She does not like to be called an actress anymore.
“I rejected 11 film offers last year. I am being offered the meatiest female role in every other soap starting in the three most popular Hindi channels. But I am done with acting. Now I want to work for the people. And, unlike many who jump into politics to gain something, I want to say that I have achieved everything I want in life and I did not come to politics for any personal gain,” Roopa says.
She wears at least four gemstones on her fingers — obviously under astrological advice — but is leaving nothing to chance or fate. With her meeting done, she now has to get ready for the evening rally. With rivals like former Bengal cricket captain Lakshim Ratan Shukla (Trinamool) and Santosh Pathak, representing the Left-Congress alliance, many may feel winning in Howrah North constituency will be a real challenge for Roopa. And with infighting among BJP members in the area, led by Umesh Rai, things might get a bit tougher for her but she feels otherwise.
“The question of my losing the election does not arise,” she says with loads of grit glittering in her eyes. Then comes a thoughtful pause, followed by, “I see the positive side of everything. This is a learning process. I will not run away from the battlefield.”
Amidst the political cacophony around her, she claims to dislikes one thing from the core of her heart – comparing her with chief minister Mamata Banerjee. “I have heard such comparisons many times. But I do not like people setting standards for me. The moment you do that, knowingly or unknowingly, people want me to be like her. I do not like that. I have my own mind,” she says.
Ask her what it is about Mamata that she hates most and she says, “The only reason I join ed politics was Mamata Banerjee. After seeing what she was doing to Bengal and the things she was saying, I decided to protest. It is easy to sit in a room and criticize others. Most of us do that. But only when you come forward to make a change, and put an effort, that things start changing… and that is why I am here today.”
Roopa feels she is very lucky to have been given so much responsibility by the BJP leadership within a year of her joining the party (She joined BJP in January 2015). She is the president of the party’s women’s wing in the state and contesting the Assembly election. And if that was not enough, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew down from Delhi to campaign for her in her constituency.
But no matter how confident she appears on the surface, somewhere she is restless, almost like a school girl. “Thinking of the fact that I will share the dais with Modiji gave me goose bumps. I am confident but I cannot afford to be over-confident. I constantly cross-check and self-introspect,” she says, in an almost confessionlike manner.
Speaking about her experience during campaigning, she says, “This place was known for industry once. But now, even the real estate constructions are being done by flouting all norms. The stench from the sewerage lines is nauseating. But people are staying here! I wonder what the Trinamool did in the last five years. This place has so much potential. I will stay on in Howrah after the elections. I am looking forward to buying a flat here.”
At Ghushuri auto stand, the crowd is a mix of migrant labourers, daily-wagers, auto drivers and small shop-owners. Many of them start bringing out their cell phones as she gets onto the dais.
“It’s been so many years since she played Draupadi… but she still looks the same… she is here to slay the Trinamool,” says one Hira Saboo, a local, as he jostles his way to the front.
Greeted with claps and cheers, Roopa picks up the microphone and walks around the dais. Though she has left films for politics, the actress in her indeed helps her take centre stage and grab attention. “Please smile, I want to see you all happy. I know that the Trinamool has not left much reason for you to smile but I am here to bring back your smiles,” she says and the crowd breaks into applause.