Howrah, April 29: Four decades back, a young and dashing George Baker took his first nervous steps in film acting, and became an instant celebrity after the Assamese production “Chameli Memsaab” got National Awards and box-office success. In 2014, as the now 68-year-old man debuts in electoral politics, he is hoping for an encore.
Affectionately addressed as `Baker sahab’ by many, the light-skinned actor famous for portraying British and European characters in Assamese and Bengali cinema, is contesting as a BJP candidate from the Howrah Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal.
As he grabs the spotlight on a new stage, Baker sees this transition as a chance to dissolve the celluloid barrier and be one with his fans, emulating in a way successful US actors-turned politicians Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As the constituency of over 1.5 million electorate gears up to go to the hustings Wednesday, Baker is pinning hopes for his party’s success on the young generation which is keen to see “better days”.
“I am not using my starpower to garner votes. I am trying to get close and personal with my fans and the people in my constituency. I am trying to shorten the distance. The difference is, earlier I was on the other side of the screen and they were in the audience and now that wall is gone,” Baker told IANS.
The constituency, part of the Howrah district that neighbours Kolkata, comprises seven assembly segments.
At present, Howrah city – the district headquarters – houses the state’s spic and span temporary seat of governance Nabanna, with the regular secretariat Writers Buildings in Kolkata undergoing renovation.
But a closer look reveals the congestion, scarce water supply, pollution, shut factories and the innumerable slums.
“I walked 16 km one day and saw the condition and spoke to people in one of the villages. I have been going house to house to get as close as possible,” Baker said.
Baker, seen in a large number of films like “Parineeta”, “Bow Barracks Forever” and the recent Bengali comedy hit “Bhooter Bhabishyat”, is in sync with the latest technology.
Social networks and messengers like Whatsapp are part of his electioneering, as he reaches out to the tech savvy first-time voters as also those in their 20s.
But Baker has a tough act ahead of him. Heavyweights like Trinamool Congress’ sitting MP and former Indian football captain Prasun Banerjee and CPI-M’s Srideep Bhattacharya are battling it out. The Congress has nominated Manoj Kumar Pandey.
However, the soft-spoken and gentlemanly Baker shies away from heated verbal exchanges or personal attacks. It’s best to ignore them, he says.
“I focus on what I can do for the people if I am elected,” said the actor, listing out priorities like residential planning for the poor and replicating BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat model of development – sustainable industries and long-term projects – in his constituency.
Having campaigned for the Congress and Trinamool in previous elections, Baker expresses his “dissatisfaction” with them for failing to keep promises. The actor feels he should have shifted allegiances to the BJP earlier.
“…Their (political parties) promises are multi-storeyed with non-existent foundation and no action,” he asserts, a tad annoyed.
“I do see hope with the BJP and it is rooting for one India, not a divided India,” he says, brushing away talks of the BJP’s alleged communal politics.
Invoking the names of actors who turned into ace politicos, like Ronald Raegan, Arnold Shwarzenneger, Telegu Desam Party founder N. T. Rama Rao, Baker tackles the ‘outsider’ tag with elan.
“I never considered myself as an outsider. The moment we open our eyes, we are in this world…we are a part of politics…a part of the system,” he says.
Baker’s depiction of Berkeley – a British tea garden owner in love with a local girl Chameli – made him a matinee idol overnight after the film released in 1975. He is praying to the people to make him lucky yet again.