Bolly-wooed by money: Cobrapost stings 36 Indian celebrities with Operation Karaoke

In a 60-minute documentary, Cobrapost unraveled the alleged willingness of 36 Bollywood celebrities to accept large sums of money to promote various political parties and make it look like their personal opinion

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The cobra is back to sting and this time, the news agency had released an expose called ‘Operation Karaoke’ which shows the alleged involvement of three dozen Bollywood celebrities willing to accept large sums of money in exchange of propagating messages in favour of political parties and make it look like it is their personal opinion.

Who are the alleged celebrities involved?

The 36 celebrities “stung” by Cobrapost are:

Playback singers: Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Kailash Kher, Mika Singh and Baba Sehgal

Actors: Jackie Shroff, Shakti Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Ameesha Patel, Mahima Chaudhry, Shreyas Talpade, Puneet Issar, Surendra Pal, Pankaj Dheer and his son Nikitin Dheer, Tisca Chopra, Deepshikha Nagpal, Akhilendra Mishra, Rohit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Salim Zaidi, Rakhi Sawant, Aman Verma, Hiten Tejwani and his wife Gauri Pradhan, Evelyn Sharma, Minissha Lamba, Koena Mitra, Poonam Pandey, Sunny Leone

Comedians: Raju Srivastava, Sunil Pal, Rajpal Yadav, Upasana Singh, Krushna Abhishek and Vijay Ishwarlal Pawar

Choreographer: Ganesh Acharya and Dancer: Sambhavana Seth.

The above-mentioned celebrities have allegedly agreed to the offer made by Cobrapost and all of these have a widespread reach over lakhs of followers on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Amidst the entire episode, four celebrities have been an exception, i.e. when they were approached by Cobrapost undercover reporters, they refused to take any part in the propaganda exercise. Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan, Raza Murad, and Saumya Tandon are the ones who turned down the ‘offer’.

How did the expose take place?

Cobrapost disguised as a Public Relations (PR) agency and approached these celebrities through respective representatives. Now, these agents would provide the celebrities with a brief of what they expected them to do. The celebrities were told to post messages from their social media accounts and pose them as their personal opinions. The news agency has claimed that the celebrities were ready to take large sums of money in return for the exercise and majorly, they were willing to accept cash.

Cobrapost’s proxy PR agency made it clear that the entire exercise was not an official campaign for a political party but a backdoor agenda-driven pre-election tactic. The new agency claimed that while all of them agreed to cooperate, some of them were even willing to tweet without being paid. They had boasted that they had indulged in such practices earlier and knew the process.

The exercise consisted of making favourable amendments to the content on social media, to defending the political parties on controversial issues such as rape, infrastructure failures etc. Cobrapost further added that several celebrities were ready to even sign a dummy contract whereas some of them wanted to keep it a secret.

According to Cobrapost: “The names of political parties were used, in good faith and public interest, for narrative purpose only, and this is not an insinuation of their actual involvement in the practice. The investigation was made to expose the celebs willing to endorse a political agenda in return for monetary gains.”

Here’s a quick explanation by Cobrapost about #OperationKaraoke:

The money offers ranged from ₹2 lakh to ₹50 lakh per message. Actors such as Sonu Sood allegedly demanded ₹20 crore for an eight-month contract and promised to deliver whatever was required of him. On the other hand, actress Minissha Lamba agreed to accept the payment in cash. Talking to the undercover agents, Lamba was told that 80-90 per cent of her payment would be in cash while 10-20 per cent would be ‘white’ so the PR agency can show it for GST etc.

References by Actors

According to a major development for the operation, some actors went on to refer to other actors – and in some cases, even family members – who they thought were capable for the exercise. Like Surendra Pal, the Dronacharya from Mahabharat put undercover Cobrapost reporters in touch with Puneet Issar and Upasana Singh. Likewise, Hiten Tejwani brought his wife Gauri Pradhan in the gig whereas Pankaj Dheer roped in his son Nikitin and daughter-in-law Kratika to be included for the exercise.

Majority of the celebrities in question were present in the room at the time of negotiations whereas some of them were routed and fixed through their managers. The Cobrapost video of Abhijeet shows how he refuses to criticise West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress stating that majority of his bread and butter is from there only.

Kailash Kher is also seen in his video saying that his agency knows about it and will tell them (reporters) everything and they should just talk with them. Comedian Sunil Pal even provided the reporters with a live demo of how he would mock Rahul Gandhi on his shows. Whereas Vivek Oberoi, who is sitting in his vanity van, is seen explaining how to create a ‘ripple effect’ by posting messages on social media.

While veteran actor Jackie Shroff is seen in the video demanding more money, Sunny Leone allegedly says in ‘Operation Karaoke’ that she would support BJP if her husband was given a citizen status. As per Cobrapost, actor Ameesha Patel wanted payments in advance before she started tweeting. Celebrity Rakhi Sawant during her meeting with Cobrapost’s undercover reporters at an Oshiwara-based restaurant in Mumbai claimed to have received an offer from Rajnath ji ‘last time’. She also said that she knew about the illegal nature of these contracts.

Videos by Cobrapost:

The Bollywood actors may have influence over the followers on social media, is it okay for an artist to fabricate the public opinion for money. Also, the entire episode raises the question that if the celebrities were ready to accept 80-90 per cent of money in cash, what sort of backchannel existed for the conversion of this extent of cash.

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