Nepal`s sex symbol becomes Maoists` new face
It fits Nepali actor Rekha Thapa like a glove in her current avatar.
Kathmandu: "I will endure fire but not injustice," she says stoutly in her Facebook account. "I will endure thirst but not abuse. I am the daughter of Nepal, who will never falter."
It is not the kind of message one would expect from a silver screen star and sex symbol.
However, it fits Nepali actor Rekha Thapa like a glove in her current avatar - the new Maoist gal on the block.
The 20-something sensual lass from eastern Nepal, a household name for her skimpy outfits and power to generate controversies, is the new publicity weapon of the former guerrillas, hobnobbing with their top leaders to spruce up the formerly underground party`s public image.
Rekha, who shot in the limelight by doing her own stunts, picking up a fight with Bollywood bad man Shakti Kapoor and ruffling the feathers of a Hindu organisation with her backless blouse, is now on a new publicity arc after having formally joined the Maoist party.
Soon after her admission to the party in 2009, she proved her value as a crowd-puller when she sashayed to a Maoist blockade of the prime minister`s office last November and shook a leg with Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, to the bemusement of the watching crowds, the media and Prachanda`s wife Sita Dahal.
The sultry November revolution was capped by a casting coup this August when Rekha signed up to play the female lead in a new film by a director considered close to the Maoists.
In 2007, a year after the Maoists ended their 10-year "People`s War" and came overground, young director Shivji Lamichhane directed "Lal Salam", a film on the insurgency that glorifies the former rebels.
This year, Lamichhane is making his next film, Jaljala, Jaljala being a village in Thabang in western Rolpa district where the Maoists set up their "capital" during the insurrection.
Rekha takes a break from her usual bump and grind rounds to play Maoist combatant Comrade Jaljala.
When the shooting started, Nand Kishore Pun Pasang, the deputy chief of the Maoists` People`s Liberation Army, reportedly showed her how an actual gun is fired.
This month, Rekha Thapa`s star turned a deeper red when she became the sister of Chandra Bahadur Thapa Sagar, chief of the Maoists` much-criticised youth organisation, the Young Communist League (YCL).
Even the spectacle of deposed king Gyanendra celebrating Brother`s Day with his only surviving sister Shobha Shahi faded into insignificance compared to the hullabaloo created by Rekha publicly proclaiming Sagar to be her brother and accepting a cash gift from him.
It was followed by more success last week after Prachanda`s deputy and the leading intellectual in the Maoist party, former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai, capitulated to the sex siren`s charms.
Bhattarai, an avid viewer of "serious" and cotemporary issue-based Bollywood films, surprised Kathmandu when along with party comrade and formerly designated Nepali ambassador to India, Ram Karki, he sauntered into a theatre during the protracted political crisis in the country to watch a film in the company of Rekha Thapa.
The film was no other than Rekha`s recent release, Kasle chorayo mero man (Who stole my heart), a predictable, poor boy-meets-rich-girl romance that despite its weak story and unbelievable characters is still reported to have done roaring business during the festival season.
Bhattarai, known for his incisive criticism of party foibles and even Prachanda`s errors, however glossed over the film, saying he was pleasantly surprised by the improved technical quality of Nepali films.
Veteran Nepali film critic Bishnu Gautam attributes Rekha`s rise due to the Maoists` wish to get rid of their old image as ruthless killers.
"There are few celebrities flocking to the Maoists," says Gautam. "The former rebels want to endear themselves to the masses, to bury their earlier image of violence and bloodshed. The presence of artistes, especially someone considered to be the reigning actor, would definitely enhance their public image."
However, he doubts that that the sex symbol has joined forces with the red party due to ideological beliefs.
"It`s more likely due to vested interests," he says. "Her husband is a film distributor and joining the Maoists is one way of ensuring his business goes unhindered.”
"In the past, many Nepali stars flocked to the palace, when it was the source of power. But now that monarchy has been abolished, some of them went over to the Maoists. But if monarchy is ever restored, they are likely to abandon the Maoists and curry favour with the new dispensation."