Main Atal Hoon review: Pankaj Tripathi is terrific as Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Main Atal Hoon review: Pankaj Tripathi is terrific as Atal Bihari Vajpayee in this sloppy, oversimplified biopic

Jan 19, 2024 12:37 PM IST

Main Atal Hoon review: This is an earnest effort to showcase the former prime minister's journey, but it's Pankaj Tripathi's stellar act that takes the cake.

Main Atal Hoon review: “Apni aadhi aankhen band karke, jab woh puri baat bolte the, toh saat samandar paar har koi sunta tha.” That's one of the lines from the introduction scenes of Main Atal Hoon — a biopic on India's 10th prime minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee — that pretty much sums up why his illustrious life and career deserve to be shown on the big screen. (Also Read: Main Atal Hoon new trailer: Pankaj Tripathi's film touches upon Emergency, Babri Masjid demolition, Pokhran nuclear test)

Pankaj Tripathi as Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Main Atal Hoon
Pankaj Tripathi as Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Main Atal Hoon

Starring Pankaj Tripathi in the titular role and directed by National Award-winning director Ravi Jadhav, Main Atal Hoon does not ride on chest-thumping patriotism or clearing any one politician's or party's image. It stays true to showcasing Atal's journey across decades. From his formative years, having a keen interest in poetry to studying law, becoming the editor of a newspaper and then a freedom fighter, and eventually joining politics, the film is a sincere homage to Atal's illustrious journey and rise as a politician. All credit to Pankaj's pitch-perfect performance that brings Atal's legacy to life on the big screen with such conviction and confidence.

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Capturing a life well lived

I like how the film shows an elaborate build-up of Atal's journey, though it's quite inconsistent in the second half and seems a bit rushed towards the end. Through a flashback scene showing his childhood, Ravi sets the tone for the story where a young Atal is shown reciting a poem on the Taj Mahal in his captivating style. A few years later, all grown up, he quietly climbs a building at midnight, and replaces England's flag with India's tricolour — this scene shows an element of mischief in his personality. As a part of Rashtriya Seva Sangh (RSS), Atal is one of the most vigilant and active members, who wants his actions to make a difference. Finally as a politician, his speeches in the Parliament call for thunderous applause.

The story, co-written by Jadhav and Rishi Virmani lacks pace, impact and intrigue. The film opens with a very crucial scene where PM Atal is discussing with his ministers a peace proposal or an impending war with Pakistan. And in those few minutes, we are shown how Atal's personality was a fine blend of calmness and aggression. An idealist and as someone who believes in mending relations with the neighbouring countries, he always put his country first, but if the enemy is up in arms, he'd go to any lengths. These traits of the late PM are shown in a much nuanced manner throughout the film, but it's the sluggish and sloppy writing that doesn't do full justice to showing them in an impactful manner. The Hindi dialogues might be a little too much to understand at some places, but thankfully, it's never to an extent that you have to Google the meaning.

For most part, Main Atal Hoon restricts itself to being a documentary of major events that acted as a catalyst in Atal's career. At several places, the film turns out to be a leaf from our history books, showing incidents such as Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, the Kashmir attack in 1953, war with China in 1962, war with Pakistan in 1963, the Emergency in 1975 and so on. While it must have been important to incorporate all these events briefly to show Atal's journey and contribution, it results in slowing down the pace of the film, and not letting the narrative form any emotional chord or leave a lasing impact.

In the second half, after the formation of Bhartiya Janata Party, Main Hoon Atal showcases key events, including India becoming a nuclear power after Pokhran tests in 1998, bus ride from Delhi to Pakistan, and the Kargil War, which remain key landmarks in Atal's career. Since the attempt is to cover as much as possible in the 2-hour-19-minute runtime, there's barely any time to do context setting of these events, and they appear to look like a montage put one after the other. It often turns into a snoozefest if you are not interested in history or politics.

Pankaj Tripathi's stellar performance

Despite all the flaws and loopholes, it's Pankaj's solid performance that doesn't make you blink an eye and keeps you invested in the film. As Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the actor puts a terrific show and displays a myriad of emotions. I loved the fact that though Pankaj has been made to look exactly like Atal physically, there's minimal effort to copy his voice modulation or mannerism while delivering dialogues. However, Pankaj's hand movements while giving speeches, body gestures while casually having a conversation, eyes and smile will make you see the real Atal on the screen most of the time. Pankaj delivering a speech in Ramleela Maidan with rain pouring is one of the most well-written and beautifully shot sequences in the entire film.

Then there's Piyush Mishra as Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, Atal's father and a school teacher, who wins you over with his impeccable screen presence, even though for a limited time. Piyush and Pankaj's father-son scenes are so endearing, and often crack you up. Scenes where Krishna goes to the same school as his son Atal to study law, or when Atal is confiding in his father that he wishes to devote his life to the upliftment of the country are some of the highlights. Among other cast members, Raja Rameshkumar Sevak as LK Advani and Gauri Sukhtankar as Sushma Swaraj lend an able support to Atal's portrayal, and their near-perfect looks as the former ministers are too good to be missed.

The film has several silhouette and long shots of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and they serve as a visual treat. Also, the black-and-white archival footage of past events make the narrative look more authentic and real. Adding to the experience, aptly placed background score by Monty Sharma is one constant in the film that you can't get enough of.

Main Atal Hoon is an earnest and humble effort to showcase Atal's journey and tell his story, but it's Pankaj's stellar act that takes the cake, as the storytelling remains average.

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