Director: Vijay Ratnakar Gutte
Cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Suzanne Bernert, Vipin Sharma, Arjun Mathur
It’s no hidden secret that Bollywood bows to a party in power. But this film, this month, is a watershed one; it marks the exact moment in time the Indian film industry shed the “film industry” from its identity and simply became Indian. With a capital “I”. With names like (vocal filmmaker) Hansal Mehta and (Newton writer) Mayank Tewari attached to this production, the writing is on the saffron wall: nobody is immune to the epidemic. It’s not pictures but motion pictures that now drive the business of campaigning. Fortunately, The Accidental Prime Minister is so incompetently crafted, ineptly designed, terribly performed and transparently petty that it isn’t even pathetic enough to be panned as a “propaganda” movie. In fact, it barely qualifies as a movie.
Ironically, the least offensive aspect of this debacle is its opportunistic dissection of the Congress and its legacy syndrome just a few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even if one lacks the grace of camouflaging its timing and intent, the least the makers could have done is be competent (read Uri: The Surgical Strike) at being shameless. It seems to have been cobbled together as a series of play-acted anecdotes by a four-year-old kid trying to misinterpret a memoir in a way that somehow manages to embarrass both politicians and filmmakers. This is no mean feat. If former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh felt betrayed by the book’s author (his ex-media advisor Sanjaya Baru), all of humankind has earned the right to feel betrayed by how one Vijay Gutte butchers and blatantly disrespects the fundamental art of storytelling. I’d go so far to say that my dog, a rabid Madhur Bhandarkar fan, might have done a better job.
Ironically, the least offensive aspect of this debacle is its opportunistic dissection of the Congress and its legacy syndrome just a few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even if one lacks the grace of camouflaging its timing and intent, the least the makers could have done is be competent (read Uri: The Surgical Strike) at being shameless.
I suspect the book presents an empathetic account of an upright man repeatedly undermined and puppeteered by his party, yet unwilling to compromise on his loyalty – all this, through the eyes of his disillusioned admirer. However, I don’t think anyone involved in this movie understands the concept of chemistry and human relationships. Akshaye Khanna plays the author/narrator Baru with the air of a smug House of Cards character – he overdoes the cheeky Khanna-chin-breaking-fourth-wall grin – rather than with the modest conscience of the PM’s private sounding board. Baru looks so full of himself that in the end he almost comes across as a BJP mole planted to sabotage his boss’ confidence. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the PMO are introduced as if they were about to rob a casino instead of run the country.
The events run roughly from 2004 to 2014, stopping to exploit the Nuclear Deal, the 2G scam and other milestones that are easier to splice in as lazy archival footage than recreate to highlight the reluctant leader’s growing discontent. Every conceivable Delhi background, from the parliament sessions to the press conference halls to the Janpath gardens, is green-screened into frames with the sophistication of a tasteless YouTuber trying to spoof a George Méliès film. Ironically, the only thing this accidental film gets right is the physical likeness of familiar faces; the Vajpayee and Kalam characters are dead ringers for the late politicians.
At one point, the relentless background music, which seems to be scoring a black-and-white French Old Wave silent comedy in a parallel dimension and is in no way related to the emasculation of the central protagonist, suddenly morphs into Yann Tiersen’s accordion theme from Amelie. This is when it dawns upon us: Anupam Kher isn’t playing Manmohan Singh, he is parodying him. His exaggerated gait (half-expected his hand movements to extend into a robot dance) and Sachin-esque voice seem to make for a systematic in-joke that only those not naive enough to believe in the sanctity of the casting choice would understand. All of which makes him a shoo-in for Best Actor at the 2020 National Awards.
A running jibe throughout the film is Manmohan Singh’s radio silence: his inability to be heard. “Why don’t you say anything?” asks everyone frustratedly, from Baru to his wife. With the release of The Accidental Prime Minister as a movie, though, their prayers might well be answered. Even the quietest man in the country won’t be able to resist commenting on this tacky concoction of soul-killing nonsense. No amount of zen calm can dilute the trauma of watching a bad movie about yourself. He will finally be heard. So what if it’s an array of polite curses mumbled under dignified breaths?