Fighting trolls, social norms and hostile farmers, Mahie Gill plays the role of a lifetime in Punjab

Ferozepur: In her hotel, Mahie Gill tightens the laces of her sneakers, as she prepares to start a day’s work. A black overcoat thrown over a dark green salwar-kameez, she’s dressed to play every woman — though her makeup might, to some eyes, seem a little too perfect for the role. This winter morning, however, she is far from her homes in Mumbai and Goa, and the nearest Bollywood set: a long and exhausting day of campaigning awaits her.

Gill – the award-winning star of acclaimed films like Anurag Kashyap Dev.Dand Tigmanshu Dhulia Saheb, Biwi Aur gangster – played the role of a real life politician, but she is now giving the performance of a lifetime, as a real life politician campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Punjab assembly elections

It’s not an easy role. At one point during the election campaign, angry protesters from a local farm organization pulled up on his car and scuffles broke out. The actress, however, seems unfazed, standing in the middle of Ferozepur’s bazaar, promising local women that the BJP will end the rule of “gangsters” and the threat of drug addiction.

Ikk mauka toh do”, she said, ‘give me a chance’.

Women line up for selfies with her – and the crowd grows, as some realize who the activist is. Next, she enters the bazaar, stopping at shops and street corners to talk to local residents. At one point, realizing that she is surrounded only by male party workers, she stops and gathers some women to march with her. Gill clearly understands the power of optics.

A fight with demonstrators from a group of farmers during the election campaign | Revathi Krishnan | The footprint

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An atypical journey

Gill, 46, comes from a conventional Jatt Sikh farming family from Chandigarh. However, little about his background can be called conventional. A gold medalist from the University of Panjab, she passed the civil service examination. Afterwards, she trained to become a soldier at the army training center in Tambaram. A skydiving accident, however, left her in the hospital for a long time. Following this, Gill told her parents that she had reached a turning point in her life and enrolled in a master’s degree in acting.

Gill was 30 when she left for Mumbai to become an actress in 2004. With no connection to the film world, she persisted for four years. She recalls how in 2004 she had to dry her hair for Rs. 600 before a meeting with a director. “I didn’t have enough money to eat that day, she says.

Then came his big break – Dev.Dfor which she won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress and the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Rookie Star Award, both in 2010. Gill says she’s a firm believer in fate – but it’s clear that hard work and perseverance had little to do with his success.

Although she struggled for four years, Gill is very proud of the fact that she didn’t take a penny from her parents and is self-taught. She credits a lot of that to her upbringing. Although she didn’t make it as an actress, she had her training to fall back on and could have become a teacher or another profession, she says.

Mahie Gill meets a saleswoman at the bazaar in Ferozepur.  |  Revathi Krishnan |  The footprint
Mahie Gill meets a saleswoman at the bazaar in Ferozepur. | Revathi Krishnan | The footprint

“I want more women to study and work,” says Gill. “It’s because of my upbringing that I didn’t experience drugs or depression in Mumbai.”

With her brothers both based in the United States, one in California and the other in New York, Gill is the only one of the family to keep her Indian passport. His parents also live in the United States and have American passports.

“I can’t live anywhere but India,” she says. “It’s my house and so it’s the only passport I want,” she says. She says her family is very happy with her choice of party and her decision to enter politics

The actress now commutes between Mumbai and Goa for her work engagements, along with her five-year-old daughter, Veronica, whom she talks about at length. However, Gill remains tight-lipped about his partner, saying he prefers to be out of the spotlight and doesn’t want anyone talking about it.

“I want to work for women”

Just over a week away from elections in Punjab, Gill joined the BJP earlier this week. She has one main goal, she says, to “work for women.” A source close to the actor says she also approached Congress a few years ago, hoping to find a platform. However, nothing materialized.

“I was offered a ticket three or four years ago, but I won’t say which party,” Gill said. “I don’t have the greed to be an MP, so I said no. I thought it was the right time, especially with the BJP in the Center, and so I took that step. If they win, I will definitely change my base and move to Punjab”.

Gill argues that the BJP has done a lot for women, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in particular.Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao‘ and party campaigns against female infanticide.

“Punjab still has this mindset of wanting a boy, and I want to change that.”

However, Gill is less comfortable when asked about controversies over women’s rights in BJP-ruled states. She refuses to discuss the Hathras case, where Uttar Pradesh police were accused of forcibly cremating a rape-murder victim. Gill won’t talk about the abuse directed against another actorArchana Gautam, who is running for election on a Uttar Pradesh Congress ticket.

Women from the Ferozepur area line up to click photos with Gill.  |  Revathi Krishnan |  The footprint
Women from the Ferozepur area line up to click photos with Gill. | Revathi Krishnan | The footprint

“I really don’t know any of this,” she insists. “I just arrived here. But I will say that before, Punjab was number one among all states, and is now at 23. If elected to power, the BJP will bring Punjab back to number one,” she said, quickly changing the tone of the conversation.

Gill says she was drawn to the BJP when filming for Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster in Gujarat and saw how good the roads were there. “Even in the villages, the roads were excellent in Gujarat. There is also a lot of development in Uttar Pradesh and Goa. The roads of Punjab are terrible. We need to get development here too”.

The decision to be politically active was costly. “I get trolled a lot,” she admits. “Many farmers say I betrayed them. I just want to tell people I’m here for a reason and trust me. If countries can solve huge problems through their differences, then why can’t we? I want to be this bridge between the people and the Centre”.

Ikk mauka toh do“, she pleads.

At the end of the election campaign, Gill plans to travel to Himachal Pradesh for a day to visit a temple to pray for his daughter, before traveling to Uttar Pradesh to campaign for the party there.

Then she will return to Goa to promote her new project, Raktanchal 2in which she plays a politician.

With contributions from Sukriti vats

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

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