He’s been called foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, “communal”, belligerent and a Hindutva fanatic. But on Tuesday, Raj Thackeray earned himself a new adjective: metrosexual hottie. When the black sheep of the Shiv Sena clan marched towards Azad Maidan for his “peaceful protest”, I tuned in to watch the madness that was sure to follow -- a repulsive display of polarising, anti-minority and anti-migrant street politics.
What I didn't bargain for was the vision that would greet me when I switched on the telly. Gone was the sartorial style of saffron politics with the red tika and starched white kurta. In its place was a new Raj with wavy tousled locks brushing his collar, eyes shaded by dark glasses which could put Tom Cruise of Top Gun and Days of Thunder to shame, and dressed more for a board-meeting than a rabble-rousing rally. This was Raj in a new, younger, sexier avatar. One which is guaranteed to draw intense female attention and make many a heart – including mine - skip a beat.
I almost mistook him for his namesake, Raj Babbar – from Mirch Masala. Imagine the scene: Raj riding into Azad Maidan on a horse with his wavy locks fluttering in the sea breeze as Mumbai’s policemen try to stop him. This is a politician made-for-Bollywood. And he has indeed been immortalised on celluloid before – by brooding Kay Kay Menon. And what perfect casting that was!
Entranced by his dashing good looks and savoir faire, I realised that Raj Thackeray is the ultimate anti-hero. He has what the other pretty boys of the political world don’t – passionate beliefs, and the courage to refuse to kow-tow to political correctness or mind his Ps and Qs. Holding a road march without permission, calling out the Home Minister and even getting the police commissioner transferred. Sorry, promoted. Simply put, this Raj has lots of chutzpah.
The less discerning might think he is an inhuman, unfeeling, self-centred monster. Then again, so are some of literature's sexiest leading men. Raj could be our very own Heathcliff, for instance. Thrown out of the warm home of his uncle, cast aside for his cousin, Raj too had to find his own way as an outsider. He too is driven by revenge for being shunned as an outsider, left out in the cold by his Shiv Sena clan. He will make his presence felt come Congress or Shiv Sena. His hatred – for outsiders, the Shiv Sena, the Congress, laws, ethics, humanity – is as strong as his determination to rule Maharashtra and take his rightful place on the throne.
Apart from his brooding good looks, Raj has the many dark qualities which embody the ultimate Romantic/ Byronic hero: A fierce intelligence, absurd sense of self-importance and hypersensitivity. The latter has definitely been on full display ever since he walked away from Matoshree.
This is one Marathi manoos we can all be passionate about.
Lest we forget, our Raj is not devoid of softer emotions. After all, he once wanted to be a cartoonist at Walt Disney. A looker, a thinker and an artist. Oh be still my beating heart!
By opting for this new avatar, Raj Thackeray has finally acknowledged that while vitriol and heartfelt speeches might work, they need to be delivered in a very pretty package. So he led thousands to Azad Maidan accompanied by a vanity van, emerging pristine and unruffled, nary a hair out of place from his blue SUV. And in that debonair avatar, he then struck a pose which has been copied by everyone from Netaji to Stalin to Hitler. Right arm outspread, pointing to the distance, showing us the way to deliverance.
Of course as a 75 per cent Baangal (that’s 75% East Bengal – 25% West Bengal), I am not allowed to follow his path, but never mind that. Maybe one day even I’ll be torn between my passion and my motherland, when Raj throws all of us Bengali immigrant workers out of Maharashtra. But I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
If Raj Thackeray keeps up this new improved look, he will soon gain his own set of groupies, much like Hitler or Clinton or even Putin. Raj will soon have his own army of desi Unity Mitfords, Eva Brauns and one lone Sen. Okay, there’s no accounting for taste -- and I certainly don't have the stomach for his politics. But he’s definitely my choice of a political poster-boy -- perfect to gaze at from a distance.
Tired of waiting for our dimpled bel ragazzo to show some passion and political prowess, we Indian women may have found ourselves a new young dilkhush political leader – and he deserves as many yellow roses as he can get.