Mockumentary is a genre we have come to gradually but whole-heartedly appreciate now, thanks to popular shows like The Office and Parks and Rec. A few years ago, even AIB attempted a show like Better Life Foundation. However, when it comes to films, we haven't had a proper mockumentary coming out of our own industry – which is exactly what makes The President is Coming, a 2009 film produced by Rohan Sippy and directed by Kunaal Roy Kapur, a truly ahead-of-its-time film and an under-rated comic gem, for it still remains one of its kind.
Telling a fictional backstory set against the real event of US President George Bush visiting India in 2006, The President is Coming uses the opportunity to take a dig at everything good and bad about our country and society in general. The film has suitably a very minimal look, with a handheld camera used throughout, to keep the mockumentary element in check. On a writing level, however, there is a no-holds-barred approach to the narrative (helmed by Anuvab Pal), as the film leaves nothing sacrosanct. It's a narrative brimming with farce, satire, caricature, and the absurd all at once. At the center of the story are six contestants from all corners of the country, fighting for the chance to meet Bush, and each of them is a more flavourful caricature than the other.
And in this gamut of stereotypes, the film manages to encompass a microcosmic view of India as a whole. The writing doesn't shy away from any stereotypes for its humour, but rather thrives on it – so the set of caricatures includes everyone from a left-leaning Bengali writer to a money-driven Gujarati stock-trader to a South-Indian tech-geek to a privileged entrepreneur from high-class Delhi. This is a bizarre world where all of these people seem equally silly and inane, though completely different from each other – and the film riffs off the chaotic energy that comes from the collision of the different worlds these contestants inhabit. Kunaal Roy Kapoor manages to tap into that sweet spot of a zany tone where realism intersects with parody, and the film never runs out of that energy. The jokes largely fuel themselves on account of their pure deadpan quality, and the genius of its ensemble cast who imbibe the poker-faced spirit to perfection. It's particularly refreshing to revisit this film and realise what great things many of its then-newbies like Vivek Gomber, Namit Das, Ira Dubey, and Anand Tiwari have gone on to accomplish. (Konkana Sen Sharma, of course, was a formidable figure by then, known for championing small-scale indie films like this one.)
The film's brilliant dialogue particularly rings true, largely in English and with very authentic-sounding usage of Hinglish interspersed in between. Even the English spoken by the characters belonging to vernacular backdrops sounds just the right kind of Indianised version of it. There is a distinct vocabulary lent to each of the characters, a quality that doesn't get enough recognition in dialogue-writing.
The references ring true too, made those to real-life personalities who clearly dominated the conversational space of an average Indian back then. Like any great satire, the film holds back no punches from its critique of the bizarreness of our system overall. In one of my favourite gags of the film, a George Bush Sr. portrait goes for repair and comes back with a Black and White portrait of Dharmendra neatly framed within. At another point, a guard wonders whether Shah Rukh Khan would arrive when told that the greatest man in the world is about to make an appearance.
The film values mayhem overall, though the satire always remains biting as well. Amidst a bunch of upper-class accomplished professionals judged by two elite PR professionals, it doesn't go unnoticed that the film places a Muslim man as the security guard, who is often treated poorly, but remains helpful to others and keeps the nation-loving poet in himself alive.
And despite being satirical and critical at the core, The President is Coming doesn't seem to hold a strong moral standpoint – it is too happy lapping up all the follies for a funny gag. Everything is up for laughs, but the film clearly has the most fun mocking our obsession with the hero-worshipping of white people, no matter how gravely stupid they might be.
The film's biggest strength is how it relentlessly mocks the former US president, without ever coming out as aggressive or hostile. Excerpts from his speeches are referenced in a pejorative manner constantly. At one point when a contestant accuses another of being a narrow-minded bigot, the latter says in his defense that it sounds like a description of Bush himself.
It was 2009, a different time for free-spirited Indie cinema, where these things could be attempted. This is exactly why The President is Coming deserves a proper revival, and a much larger audience – to remind the audience of the true potential of a comedy film in a duly democratic film-loving nation.