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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Biopic season - The Accidental Prime Minister: An Accidental Snoozefest

The Accidental Prime Minister fails even as political propaganda because it is a very boring movie seemingly made by an amateur

bollywood Updated: Jan 12, 2019 19:18 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times
Anupam Kher in the film, The Accidental Prime Minister, which is based on a book by Sanjaya Baru.
Anupam Kher in the film, The Accidental Prime Minister, which is based on a book by Sanjaya Baru.

It is a measure of how committed The Accidental Prime Minister is to gritty authenticity that Sanjaya Baru, on whose book the film is based, is played by Akshaye Khanna. Given this level of realism, Manmohan Singh should have demanded to be played by Tiger Shroff or, at the very least, by Ranbir Kapoor.

The Accidental Prime Minister was always going to be a difficult book to turn into a film. Congressmen used to accuse Sanjaya Baru of telling the press that Manmohan Singh (whose Media Advisor he was) always tried to help the people of India but was frustrated at every turn by venal party hacks (and to some extent, perhaps by Sonia Gandhi).

Baru’s book, published over four years after he left the PMO, suggested that the Congressmen were not entirely wrong to see him as somebody who tried to distinguish between the Prime Minister and the party. On the other hand, it also offered us a rare insight into the Manmohan Singh PMO.

Singh liked Baru and the book reflected the former Media Advisor’s admiration for his old boss. But the two tragically fell out when Baru apparently broke his word to Singh that he would not publish The Accidental Prime Minister until after the 2014 election.

Commercially, Baru’s decision made sense. The book is one of the all-time great bestsellers of Indian publishing. But the effects on his relationship with Singh were severe. (And the Congressmen said they had been right about Baru all along.)

A good director and a halfway decent scriptwriter could have turned The Accidental Prime Minister into a study of how power operates at the highest level. But the people who made this movie seem to have no real interest in Baru’s book. Instead it is treated only as a convenient peg on which to hang the anti-Congress narrative which was already current when Manmohan Singh was PM.

A file photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
A file photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ( Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO )

In this version, the Gandhis were power-hungry dynasts (and Italians, at that!) who chose Manmohan Singh to be their puppet and then sacrificed him when he was not needed.

The movie of The Accidental Prime Minister creates an imaginary Baru who is quite different from the real man. The film turns him into a key figure in the government whose relationship with Manmohan Singh is, frankly, a little weird. They hug, they hold hands, they weep together and they bond over ‘Que sera sera’. I don’t think that even Baru has claimed to have that close a relationship with Singh or to have wielded so much power in the PMO.

But for this script to work, he needs to be a powerful person, a sort of Sir Lancelot to Singh’s King Arthur. So by the end of the movie, viewers may conclude that he is like the lizard on the ceiling who thinks he is holding the whole roof up. The real Baru is not a Walter Mitty-esque figure so this caricature cannot have been his idea. He says that his involvement in the film was zero. He signed off the movie rights in 2015, met the director twice and that was it.

The movie’s imaginary Baru is played by Akshaye Khanna in a fetching toupee with many sharp, nip-waisted suits and just two expressions: Smirk and No-Smirk.He is nothing like the real Baru who is not much of a smirker.

I guess that by claiming that this tired retread of the old hackneyed narrative is actually Baru’s insider account the film looks for a thin veneer of credibility. But it also damages many reputations: not just Baru’s. Manmohan Singh is portrayed as a spineless crybaby and his many achievements as Prime Minister go unacknowledged, except for the Indo-US nuclear deal. As for Sonia, she gets the usual mafia-boss treatment that this narrative requires. Rahul is turned into a figure of fun while rousing newsreel footage at the end hails Narendra Modi as he makes adoring crowds swoon.

That would be fine (from a propagandist perspective) if this film was well made. But, as the reviews have all pointed out, it is a terrible movie seemingly made by an amateur. Nor does the director ever capture Delhi. PM House and 10 Janpath look as though they were shot on sets left over from an Ekta Kapoor production complete with loud garish colours. (How difficult can it have been to recreate these interiors authentically when there are so many photos around?) Singh’s SPG guards look like waiters sent over by a tentwallah. (Which idiot told the director that SPG officers never wear ties?)

The details of the minor characters are wrong. (Ahmed Patel, the comic opera villain of this piece, is called “Ahmed bhai” not “Patelsaab” by his colleagues.) I doubt if P Chidambaram or Pranab Mukherjee would recognise themselves. (I have no complaints about my cameo appearance by the way but next time around could I please get the same sharp suits as Akshaye Khanna? And yes, the toupee would help too.)

Ultimately the film fails not because it is propaganda. It fails because it is very boring. The sound you hear at the end, over the screeching soundtrack, is not Joseph Goebbels turning in his grave.

It is the sound of the ghost of Goebbels snoring loudly, having been as thoroughly bored as the rest of us.

First Published: Jan 12, 2019 18:35 IST

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