With the Lok Sabha 2019 elections approaching, the recent sting operation by Cobrapost ‘Operation Karaoke’ exposes several Bollywood celebrities willing and wanting to get their hands dirty in exchange for a huge amount of cash. Cobrapost is a non-profit journalism organisation based in India known for conducting undercover investigative journalism. Aniruddha Bahal established the company in 2003 and in 2005 the company carried out its first sting operation. On Tuesday, February 19, Cobrapost published a report naming Bollywood celebrities including directors, actors, playback singers, stand-up comedians and dancers associated with the industry willing to influence their followers’ political opinion pertaining to the 2019 elections through various social media platforms. In exchange for influencing millions of fans through social media posts, videos and messages, these celebrities demanded remunerations ranging from some lakhs to even crores.
Background of the Sting Operation by Cobrapost:
The Cobrapost reporters approached various celebrities associated with the Bollywood industry through agents, in disguise of a “fictitious PR agency” and in incognito. The agents involved in aiding the reporters to reach out to the celebrities not only arranged meetings and briefed the agenda but also handled money matters in detail including modes of payment. Although, one of the agents, Sameer Matai, at one point suspected it to be a sting operation and insisted on visiting the non-existent Delhi office, obviously after which Cobrapost had to discontinue association with him. However, before feeling suspicious about the process, Sameer had already mailed the disguised reporters regarding the celebrities willing to get involved in the hidden agenda and their individual charges. The Cobrapost in their report, wrote that they approached the celebrities with one simple question- “Would you be willing to promote a political party discreetly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?” Barring a few celebrities, “almost all…the celebs concurred to do it for a fee” the report says.
List of Some Celebrities, Their Followers and the Fee Demanded by Each Individual :
|Celebrities and their followers||Money demanded|
|Abhijeet Bhattacharya (playback singer)- 21.27 lakh followers on Facebook and 3000 on Instagram||10 lakh per post, 60 lakh per month minimum.|
|Mika Singh (Playback singer)- 40 lakh followers on Twitter, more than 50 lakh on Facebook and 10.70 lakh on Instagram||5 lakh per message a month|
|Shakti Kapoor (Actor)- 1200 followers on Twitter, 1300 on Facebook and 62000 people on Instagram||1 crore a month|
|Sunny Leone (Bollywood actor and Model)- 39 lakh followers on Twitter,about 23.48 lakh follow her on Facebook and about 1.80 crore people following her on Insta||75 lakh per month|
Others in the list include noted playback singers Kailash Kher and Baba Sehgal; actors Jackie Shroff, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Amisha Patel, Mahima Chaudhry, Shreyas Talpade, Puneet Issar, Surendra Pal, Pankaj Dheer and his son Nikitin Dheer, Tisca Chopra, Deepshikha Nagpal, Akhilendra Mishra, Rohit Roy and his brother Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Salim Zaidi, Rakhi Sawant, Aman Verma, Hiten Tejwani and spouse Gauri Pradhan, Evelyn Sharma, Minissha Lamba, Koena Mitra, Poonam Pandey; comedians Raju Srivastava, Sunil Pal, Rajpal Yadav, Upasana Singh, Krushna Abhishek and Vijay Ishwarlal Pawar; and choreographer Ganesh Acharya and dancer Sambhavana Seth, as reported by Cobrapost.
Celebrities who refused to compromise with their moral principles and rejected the offer of being a part of this hidden campaign includes Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon.
The Cobrapost further reported that many celebrities were so eager to go forward with the contract that “They agreed to send us their PAN and banking details, and many actually did so. They swore to keep the entire exercise a secret, and the agenda hidden. Some actors even proposed that they would proxy promote the political party in their press briefings during the promotion of a film or an event.”
While some like Abhijeet Bhattacharya wanted to keep things natural “Hoon, natural lage na kahin khade traffic mein gaadi ke andar baith ke bol diya chaay pee rahe hain coffee shop pe bol diya toh wo … haan natural (It should look natural. Suppose, I am at a traffic signal and I say something while sitting in my car or sipping tea at a coffee shop … yes [that would look] natural).”; others like Ganesh Acharya were sure of their widespread influencing abilities.
Reactions After the Revelation:
After the revelation, the Cobrapost sent out emails to each of the celebrities involved regarding the sting operation. They’ve only received a few responses. While on one hand, Rajpal Yadav’s team reverted by saying he was unavailable till April, Mahima Chowdhury, on the other hand, disagreed to be a part of it. Sonu Sood not only commended the work done by Cobrapost but also defended his act by saying “Promoting political parties, brands, endorsements is not wrong as long as you believe in the product and their ideologies.”
The operation not only reveals the true faces of many influential and popular Bollywood celebrities who would not think twice before promoting anything when being lured with money but also raises several other questions like- the misuse of social media platforms for promotional activities, the trustworthiness of renowned personalities of our country who millions of people look up to and the misuse of the influential power in the hands of these celebrities falling in the trap of the highest bidder.
Sources: Cobrapost, Scroll.in , QRIUS , Wikipedia.
Image Credits: Newslaundry, IBTimes, JantaKaReport, TOI, Latestly.com