Media Watch: Cobragate | Pakistan Today

Media Watch: Cobragate

It was quite a sting operation. New Indian news outfit Cobrapost has caused quite a tumult in the Indian entertainment industry by covertly recording conversations with Bollywood celebrities where the latter were offered money to post on their social media accounts in favour of a political party. Most of them giddily agreed, with some even going above and beyond, offering advice on how to streamline the initiative even more.

None of them were A-listers; they were current and former B-listers. What was interesting was how professionally they handled the propositions. Some didn’t need the concept explained to them, as if it were a fairness cream commercial that was being offered.

It was amusing to see late-90s starlet Mahima Chaudhry, who was inches away from breaking into the A-list back in the day, talk so openly about money. “If it’s BJP, they can give anything. They could give me one crore a month.”


This isn’t Cobrapost’s first sting; in the past, they had offered money to 36 news channels to run pro-BJP stories. All of them, down to the last 36th, agreed. Once bitten, twice shy, the Indian news media has chosen to by and large ignore the current Cobrapost Bollywood sting, specially since rumours are rife that the sting specialist outfit is planning another news media expose.

Because of the mainstream media’s relative reluctance to run the news item, the effective debate on the issue was carried out in the comments section of the YouTube videos of the sting operation.

The defenders of the BJP were a bit on the defensive side – surprising, given how it was very clear that the party had absolutely nothing to do with the proposition. The majority of the fake offers being for the BJP might have something to do with this, though.

In these comments, some asked what was so wrong with it. This is how celebrities make money, isn’t? It’s like ads.

Now, though one doesn’t agree with this ‘hey, it’s a living’ approach, it does open up to a very interesting discussion about the very nature of celebrity endorsement; the conventional commercial kind, not the political variety.

Indian comedian/musician Salim Jamadar has made an interesting song about the celebrity endorsement culture. In a song styled on Gully Boy’s Apna Time Aaega, his song Kitna Paisa Khaayega follows a fan of Bollywood stars Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh, who eats and drinks all the products that they endorse, only to find out, after meeting them in real life, that they wouldn’t even touch the stuff that they were endorsing. When he finally realises that these six-pack-abs sporting Greek deities won’t consume greasy burgers and sugary fizzy drinks, Jamadar belts out, with feeling, Tu Kitna Paisa Khaayega?

Post-script: One doesn’t know why the A-listers weren’t targeted. One of the reasons could be that they are extremely difficult to arrange a meeting with.

Even if they were to be offered, they might not take up the offer. One, because they won’t need the money as much as Cobrapost’s haul, riding the Bollywood gravy train (not to mention selling the greasy products mentioned above.) Two, because it would actually alienate part of their fanbase. Congressite fans might get upset with BJP endorsements, so why risk it?

Are we seeing an element of this in the present anti-Pakistan rhetoric in India? It is only those celebrities that are delivering a string of duds in a row (like Kangana Ranaut) and playback singers no one signs anymore (like Sonu Nigam and Abhijeet) that are making extremely acerbic statements against Pakistan. The top tier is, by and large, avoiding the subject.

PPS: Kudos to some of the celebrities who flat-out refused to be a part of the political endorsements, like Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan and others.

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.