Mathura: Five years ago she came here seeking votes for Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate Jayant Chaudhary. But the sitting MP is now her main rival and tormentor, whom she accuses of non-performance.
It is a perfect role reversal for Bollywood's 'Dreamgirl' Hema Malini and the scene is set in Mathura, the 'Braj Bhoomi', a place she claims she has a spiritual connection with. The BJP and RLD were together in the last elections in an alliance but the Ajit Singh-led RLD has now switched sides to join the Congress-led UPA. The other contenders in the fray are BSP's Yogesh Divedi, Samajwadi Party's Chandan Singh and AAP's Kapil Mishra.
The actress, who is fighting her maiden election on a BJP ticket, makes it a point to remind voters about her earlier role as a star BJP campaigner in the birth place of Krishna.
"'Brajwasiyon'(residents), I was here five years ago to seek votes for Jayantji and I must thank you that you had listened to me and helped him win. But his party has changed sides. He is not with BJP.
"Now, I am fighting elections from BJP and you must vote for me," she says while addressing a modest crowd in Mat Tehsil, launching a veiled attack on the sitting MP's performance.
"I see the condition of roads. They are in bad shape. The man who won from here has never visited this place and no work has been done," she added. Hema Malini, who had served a full six-year term in Rajya Sabha as a nominated member and a year in a casual vacancy, carries her 66-years lightly on her shoulders.
She is still a crowd-puller as her caravan moves in the dusty interiors of Mathura negotiating potholes and narrow roads.Her cavalcade stops at one point on her way to a road show. Asked what happened, someone says, "The road is too bumpy and she is not feeling well."
It is a strange journey for a woman, whose perfect cheeks were once invoked by Lalu Prasad in his promise to lay smooth roads in Bihar.
Hema Malini's campaign trail is full of curious fan encounters as she travels from village to village seeking votes for herself.
She keeps her address simple, occasionally glancing at a handwritten note in Hindi to get the names of local BJP leaders right at the beginning of every speech.
"This is an historic and important election. If you help me, I would be the first woman to win from here. I want to work on development issues and for the betterment of women.
"I have been travelling around Mathura for 10 days and I can see all the problems. I will find solutions for all your problems and work from within you. I will not run away," she promises.
Of course, she does not forget to make the mandatory mention of Narendra Modi's name and his development model.
"There is a wave against corruption in the country. I am fighting from BJP because all the senior leaders like Modiji are working towards the betterment of people." The public, especially in villages, swarms to see the Basanti of 'Sholay' and Hema Malini is amused by the power that her role in the 1975 film still carries.
"When I say 'Abhinetri' (actress) you don't respond but when I say Basanti you all clap," she tells the crowd in a mockingly chiding tone.
'Madam, tangewala dialogue,' comes a demand from another rally.
"'Arrey', I have not come here to say 'Tangewala' dialogue... that is past... now the Tangewali is in politics. But you still help your Basanti win," pat comes her reply.
In a constituency where Jats constitute one of the dominant communities, her marriage to actor Dharmendra has got her the sobriquet 'Jatni bahu' (Jat daughter-in-law) and that may help to some extent.
But her rival, Jayant, grandson of one of the tallest Jat leaders, late Chaudhary Charan Singh, dismisses all that, saying, "Serious politics needs serious faces." He claims his relationship with people is more real, an apparent taunt at her moorings in Mumbai.
"It is not easy, it is not role playing. You have to open your heart and stay in the middle of your people. There is an intimacy in this relationship. It is not that you can wear a mask and repeat a few dialogues and the public will come with you," Jayant told.
With the April sun blaring mercilessly, it is not easy on the actress, who sometimes covers her head with the 'pallu' of her saree and at times an umbrella.
She makes several stops to talk to women and men working in the fields. Such is the curiosity to see the star that at one point an old farmer comes running and stands in the middle of the road to stop her car. She shakes hands with him, chats briefly and moves on. The man, grinning from ear to ear, returns to his field.
When her car does not stop in a village, women complain, "She stopped twice in the other village and she did not even get out of her car here. How will you get votes?" One of the volunteers tries to pacify her, "Arrey, it is a road show. She will come again. Why are you getting angry. You must vote for her."
Then he grumbles to himself, "This will create trouble. Hemaji should at least wave to people. This is what public wants. They want to see her."
The younger generation, while happy to see the actress, wants to bargain further.
"Why don't you bring Sunny Deol here. Will he come? If he comes here, we will all vote for Hema Malini," a rowdy group chants.
Hema, on her part, has promised the public that her husband Dharmendra and elder daughter Esha will come.
The black Audi which has become a constant companion for the actress is covered in a layer of dust by the evening.
It will get ready by the morning for duty till April 24, the D-Day when Mathura votes.