By Gitanjali Marcelline/newsin.asia
Can female celebrities from various fields face the rough and tumble of politics and make a mark in it? That is the question that the masses in Sri Lanka had been asking ever since the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) fielded actresses, including Geetha Kumarasinghe, in the recently concluded parliamentary elections.
I believe there’s much that celebrities can do in politics using their fame to fetch votes for themselves and the party they represent. Film and tele-drama actresses especially, are endowed with mass appeal. They are best suited to enact this role as acting is an essential ingredient in politics. Did not the bard say: “All the world’s a stage and we’re all players in it?”.
By definition, politics is a field open to all: young and old, educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor, the famous and the ordinary. A talent for appealing to people on one ground or the other effectively is all that is needed to make a mark. However, simple as this may sound, not everybody has the talent, the grit and determination to survive and succeed in the unsparing man eat man world of politics.
Still, many who had no background of politics, including film and teledrama actresses, have succeeded in making it to the top and earned laurels in the process.
Leading the list is a radio artist turned political activist, Eva Peron of Argentina. In a 1996 interview, Tomás Eloy Martínez referred to Eva Perón as “the Cinderella of the tango and the Sleeping Beauty of Latin America.” Martínez suggested she has remained an important cultural icon for the same reasons as fellow Argentine Che Guevara.
Although Eva never held a government post, she was the de facto Minister of Health and Labor in her husband Juan Peron’ government (1946 to 1952). As such, she earned the gratitude of the poor by awarding generous wage increases to the unions. Her own Eva Perón Foundation, which was supported by “voluntary” union and business contributions plus a substantial cut of the national lottery and other funds, helped her carry out her mission. These resources were used to establish thousands of hospitals, schools, orphanages, homes for the aged, and other charitable institutions.
Eva was largely responsible for the passage of the Women’s Suffrage law and the formation of the Peronista Feminist Party in 1949. In 1951, although dying of cancer, she obtained nomination for the Vice Presidency, but the army forced her to withdraw her candidacy.
Even after her death in 1952, Eva remained a formidable influence in Argentine politics. Her working-class followers tried unsuccessfully to have her canonized, prevented it.
Italy too has had its fair share of celebrities in parliament. Sex bomb Gina Lollobrigida took to photographic journalism after her acting career ended and made a bid for the European Parliament in 1999, but failed. Alessandra Mussolini, actress, model and grand-daughter of the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, made a huge splash in Italian politics. Alessandra (b.1962) is a right wing conservative politician, who served as a Member of the European Parliament for Forza Italia. She was a member of the Chamber of Deputies from 2008 to 2013 and the Italian Senate from 2013 to 2014. She was the founder-leader of the national conservative political party “Social Action”.
The sensational porn star Llona Staller aka La Cicciolina was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987 with 20,000 votes. According to the website thelocal.it, Staller started out as a model in Hungary and later developed her career as a porn star in Italy. In the early 70s, she met pornographer Riccardo Schicchi with whom she co-hosted a radio show called Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?, which featured live calls from listeners about sexual matters.
Staller and Schicchi then co-founded Diva Futura, a pornography and erotica film studio. During the 1970s, Ciccoliona not only starred in porn films but also made several television appearances – the most infamous of which was in 1978, when she bared her breasts live on air in the show C’era due Volte.
Entering politics, she first ran for parliament as a candidate of Italy’s first Green party, the Lista del Sole, but lost. She continued to star in and produce porn films, the most famous being The Red Telephone, which she co-produced with Schicchi in 1983. In 1987, she finally won a seat in the Italian parliament as a member of the Radical Party. Later she championed human rights and supported campaigns against nuclear energy and NATO membership. Four years later, she abandoned the Radicals to set up her own protest party, the ‘Party of Love’, with another porn star.
In 2012, Staller founded the Democracy, Nature and Love Party (DNA) with her partner Luca di Carlo, a criminal defense lawyer. Its objectives included: a guaranteed minimum wage for young people; a properly functioning judicial system for every Italian; and the elimination of the privileges of the rich political “caste”, all commendable goals.
Closer home, there was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jayaram, who was a famous Tamil film star before she plunged into politics. Teaming up with matinee idol cum political bigwig M.G.Ramachandran aka MGR, Jayalalitha won laurels in Tamil Nadu politics too. She was an active Member of Parliament. As Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu several times, she initiated people-oriented welfare schemes which earned her the title “Puratchi Thalaivi” or “Revolutionary Leader”.
Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi became a famous social and women’s rights activist, a Goodwill Ambassador of UNFPA and a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament.
Last but not the least, at home in Sri Lanka, stars of Sinhala cinema have also made it big in politics. Rosy Senanayake, a former Mrs. World and an actress, rose to be High Commissioner in Malaysia, an MP, Mayor of Colombo and Leader of the Opposition in the Western Provincial Council.
Leading actresses Malani Fonseka and Geetha Kumarasinghe were also Members of Parliament. While Malani brought gracefulness to parliament, Geetha was a quintessential activist. Her dual citizenship (Swiss-Sri Lankan) unseated her in 2017 as per the 19th.Amendment of 2015. But being keen on a political career, she renounced her Swiss citizenship and contested the August 5, 2020 parliamentary elections from Galle District and won with 63,356 preferential votes.
I have great respect for Geetha for her acting, film production skills, activism and political abilities. She got the National film Festival and Sarasawiya awards. She had produced films such as Palama Yata, Salambak Handai, Loku Duwa, Anurgaye Ananthaya, Wasuli and Geetha., Her productions Palama Yata and Loku Duwa won her Best Film Awards at the Sarasawiya Awards Function.
Geetha’s portrayal of Dulcie in Pembara Madu and Dotty in Palama Yata won her critical acclaim. For Palama Yata, she actually lived the life of the subjects, the poor living under the Kelaniya Bridge. Geetha is said to be gender sensitive. She is also well positioned to promote the rights of migrant, garment factory, plantation, film industry and informal workers in the tourism industry.
Going by the foregoing facts, it can be surmised that celebrated actresses and artistes have the wherewithal to handle the rough and tumble of politics and prove the naysayers and sexists wrong.
(The featured image at the top is that of the Sri Lankan actress politician Geetha Kumarasinghe)