Is it all about money honey?
Truckloads of Bollywood stars are flocking to join political parties ahead of Lok Sabha election but questions are now being asked whether it's due to their strong political convictions, the raw taste of power or the lure of cash.
The media is awash with allegations that millions of rupees are being splurged by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition party Congress on wooing stars to brighten their otherwise dour campaigning.
Dozens of actors and actresses have joined the BJP and Congress in the past month, including the bad men of Bollywood, Shakti Kapoor and Suresh Oberoi; the 'dream girl' of the 70s Hema Malini; former leading lady Poonam Dhillon; television star Smriti Irani and former Miss World Yukta Mookhey (SEE STAR TRECK).
While most stars deny that they are up for grabs, some admit they have been approached with lucrative offers by various political parties to campaign for them.
"I have been approached by many parties to campaign and the offer is not just money, but even a seat in the upper house of parliament," popular Bollywood actor Ashutosh Rana was quoted as saying.
"The parties feel that actors are reflection of the society and that they (parties) represent the society and so the combination works. They think we can change their electoral prospects."
However, Rana had campaigned during the 2003 Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh for a BSP candidate. When asked Rana said he did so because the candidate, Surendra Suhane, was his brother-in-law.
The controversy over actors being paid for campaigning erupted when Mumbai tabloid Mid-day frontpaged a report detailing the rates they claimed actors were paid for campaigning for various political parties.
The paper claimed Sharad Kapoor was paid Rs 100,000 per day of the campaign by the Congress. Former Miss World Yukta Mookhey, it said, was paid Rs 150,000 by the BJP to campaign for the party.
The newspaper said Irani, a household name after her hit television serial "Sans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi", was paid the astronomical sum of 10 million rupees (221,000 dollars) by the BJP just before the Assembly election in 2003, an allegation she denies strongly.
"Where is the proof that I have taken money," said Irani in an interview with television channel.
"I joined the BJP before the three assembly elections last year and at that time the party was expected to lose. But I believe in their ideology so I joined them."
Asked if she knew if actors were taking money to campaign, Irani replies, "I don't know who is taking money and who is not. I can only speak for myself. And I have joined BJP with commitment."
Political analysts claim the political parties are paying out hand over fist to the movie stars.
"It appears as if these stars are up for grabs, or it is a coincidence that all of them developed political convictions at the same time, which I do not believe," said veteran political analyst Kumar Ketkar.
Ketkar alleged the BJP is paying out more money than Congress.
"The party has mobilised so much money in the last six years be it in dollars, euros or rupees, that it has made Congress a novice in politics."
Denying the allegations, the BJP claims the party has become attractive not just to stars but to people from all walks of life for its image and the leadership qualities of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
"It is not true that we are offering money to these actors," BJP national spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.
"Let me tell you that it is not just stars who are joining the party. Politicians, sportsmen, retired bureaucrats and many others are joining politics. But it is the media problem that you see only film stars joining us."
"These people know that only the BJP under the leadership of Vajpayee can make the country stronger. They are intelligent people from their field and they know what they are doing. There is no question of money."
The Congress, too, denies it is paying for its star-studded line-up.
"No money is used in getting these stars. If we start using money, then the BJP can easily take in the entire industry," said Congress leader T. Subbarami Reddy.
While celebrities and political parties are busy denying charges, there are some who think there is nothing wrong in campaigning for poltical parties in lieu of money.
"What is the harm if they take money?" asks Aman Verma, a popular television actor and anchor for television shows like Khul Jaa Sim Sim and Jadoo. He recently appeared in a couple of films, Baghban and Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye.
"Actors have a very short span of fame. I don't feel there is anything wrong in taking money from politicians if they think their [the stars'] popularity can convert into votes for a particular party," says Verma, who claims he has not been contacted for campaigning by any political party.
"After all, actors too need to secure their future. They can make money only when they are famous. Nobody bothers about their well being when they disappear from the limelight," he says.
However, analyst Ketkar said the presence of stars would not make much difference in voting patterns.
"Very few stars have managed to make a presence in politics ... Most of these new ones even need to be fed lines by campaign handlers during a press conference," said Ketkar.