Bollywood plays starring role in Modi’s re-election bid

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Early this year, a dozen of Bollywood’s biggest names took a private jet from India’s film capital of Mumbai to New Delhi for a private audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Subsequently, actor Ranveer Singh, who has nearly 22 million followers on Instagram, posted a smiling picture of himself hugging Modi, with a caption expressing his “joy” at the encounter, drawing more than 3 million likes.

Bollywood is playing a lead role in Modi’s campaign for a second term, endorsing him on-screen and off, in both subtle and obvious ways, in a marked shift from the more transactional relationship Indian film stars previously had with politicians.

Modi asked filmmakers and stars to “talk about patriotism, and Indian culture and values,” in their films, said film producer Mahaveer Jain, who organised the Jan. 10 meeting.

“He recognizes the soft power of Bollywood, and the impact it can have.”

As people younger than 35 form nearly two-thirds of India’s population of about 1.3 billion, with more than 15 million voting for the first time in general elections that begin on Thursday, approval from the leading stars could be key.

Modi swept to victory in 2014, but this time, rural distress and concern about a lack of jobs threaten to make it tougher for his party to triumph in elections spread over a month, with counting set for May 23.

In recent months, Modi has met privately at least four times with several of Bollywood’s biggest personalities, most of whom have posted selfies with him on social media, accompanied by glowing captions.

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