Agent Mallika, fangirl?

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Is Mallika Sherawat crushing on Narendra Modiji, as she calls him, the last syllable stretched and tortured like a man on a Procrustean bed? Or is she a Congress plant? Her mission: to turn the cowboy-hatted, designer-eyeglass-wearing strong man of India into a laughing stock. If it’s the latter, come in Agent Mallika, mission accomplished.

In a breathy 30-second YouTube clip, Sherawat, star of the upcoming Dirty Politics, undid all that Apco image-primping, all that glossing of hair and beard for all those adoring female fans.

All those adoring female fans? Don’t take our word for it. Among India TV’s ‘10 facts to know about Narendra Modi’ was this revealing, er, fact:

“Women all over India adore Modi. In his home state, he is seen as a sex symbol among women. A close look at his public meetings makes it abundantly clear that women outnumber men among attendees. Analysts say this is mainly because of his emperor-like image exuding absolute power and authority.” With media coverage like that, who needs “a three-month course in the US on public relations and image management” (fact number 6)?

Agent Mallika must have been on that same course. Her ‘fame’ derives from her PR skills (cough, shameless self-promotion) more than any actual talent. Her popularity overseas, evident mostly in random red carpet appearances, thrives on carefully placed rumours. Jackie Chan, for instance, is smitten by her. So’s Antonio Banderas. She broke up his 16-year marriage to Melanie Griffith.

“Mallika Sherawat who?” responded Banderas’ publicists. But that’s not the point.

Agent Mallika has worked carefully to draw out the parallels between her and Narendra Modiji. Before her ‘Marilyn moment’ — a rendition of Happy Birthday that was not so much sexy as an inept parody of sexy, all protruding lower lip and breaths so shallow she seemed about to pull out an inhaler — she had this to say on the sets of her new show The Bachelorette India: “He is smart, progressive and often misunderstood, like me.”

Like Narendra Modiji, Agent Mallika too overcame a financially strapped background to make it to the top. “I am the salt of the earth,” she once told TEHELKA. (Narendra Modiji might have said the same, if he spoke to us.) “I am the Viagra for the Indian male,” she once said. (There is no record of Narendra Modiji saying the same.) Mallika, quoting Bette Davis, has said of her career, “I survived because I was tougher than everybody else.” Narendra Modiji takes a similar stand on China and Pakistan.

It was inevitable that all this shared smartness, progressiveness and being-misunderstoodness would lead to the kind of moment the country bore horrified witness to on Narendra Modiji’s 63rd birthday. Like the toreador expertly baiting her bull, Agent Mallika waited till she could cause maximum embarrassment with maximum flourish.

She waited for Modi to show his progressive hand. Waited through all those platitudes about maas and bens in every speech. Waited for BJP vice president Smriti Irani to confirm that the deep connection women voters felt towards Modi was “logical, not emotional”. Waited for Modi to show the truth of Irani’s insight by revealing in an interview that the high numbers for malnutrition in Gujarat are because of young women’s propensity to be “figure conscious”. It’s the sort of remark that makes Modi, he of the ‘ Rs 50-crore ki girlfriend’ crack, so appealing.

And then Agent Mallika struck. As she sang Happy Birthday with such cringe-inducing gusto, at a stroke rendering a certain kind of male fantasy ludicrous, we saw Modi — paternalistic, big man Narendra Modiji — turn ludicrous too. Modi’s Gujarat is notoriously bad for women. The conviction rate for dowry deaths is the lowest in the country; the conviction rate for ‘assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’ is also lowest in the country; the conviction rate for rape is much lower than the national average; the conviction rate for cruelty by husband or his relatives is 11 percentage points below the national average.

So happy birthday, Narendra Modiji. Agent Mallika done good.

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