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‘MANY STARS WANTED MONEY EVEN BEFORE MEETING’

Sting operator Cobrapost’s founder Aniruddha Bahal on how he roped in actors to secretly endorse political parties on social media, for cash

Bollywood and politics have often been accused of being strange bedfellows. In a development that sent shockwaves across the industry recently, investigative website Cobrapost alleged that “nearly three dozen” Bollywood stars were willing to secretly promote political parties on social media in exchange for cash. Dubbed as Operation Karaoke, the sting operation — videos of which were made public online — saw the reporters reach out to various celebrities, posing as managers from a fictitious PR agency. The operation that was apparently conducted last year saw Sunny Leone, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Shreyas Talpade, Padma Shri awardee Kailash Kher and Mika Singh, among others, agreeing to accept their fee in cash, in exchange for posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram endorsing the Central Government, BJP, and other political parties. The messages were to be shared over a period of eight months in the run-up to the general elections.

Talking to Mid-day, Cobrapost editor Aniruddha Bahal said that the idea germinated early last year: “The reporters came up with the idea as they were listening to a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding this phenomenon.” Question him why they didn’t put A-list stars under the scanner, he says, “We met them mostly through agents who had briefed actors beforehand. So we went where the agents took us. We weren’t targeting anybody. The fees were fixed and nearly all of them agreed to a black money arrangement. Many of them wanted money in advance before meeting.” Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Saumya Tandon and Raza Murad turned the offer down.

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