In a country like India, more people watch movies than they read books – which could probably explain why Sanjaya Baru’s 2014 book The Accidental Prime Minister didn’t create as much of a storm as its cinematic counterpart did.
Baru’s tell-all memoir about his time at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did stir a small controversy, showing us how the then PM Manmohan Singh’s good intent was never enough to navigate the stormy political weather he had to endure. ‘He is a good man in the wrong party’ was the general sentiment as one corruption scandal after another rocked UPA’s second term.
However, with the release of the movie’s trailer and the prospect of a film that doesn’t look kindly upon the Gandhi family being released in an election year, one question is bound to be asked – how propagandist is the film?
The makers, for their part, seem to align their answer with the opening citation – “all characters , events and incidents are based on the book and have been fictionalised for dramatisation.” Utmost care has been taken to keep the screenplay accurately aligned to the book. So, if we have reservations about what is being shown, all that ire can probably be directed at Mr Baru?
Moving on, talking about the film minus the intent behind making it or the politics of it – one has to admit that the casting has been bang on. With real names being used and incidents like the nuclear deal still fresh in our minds, the physical similarities almost become a necessity.
Anupam Kher has managed to nail Dr Singh’s walk, his awkward hand movements, and the almost whispering tone.
Divya Seth Shah, as the very likeable Mrs Singh, fits the role. T Suzanne Bernert as Sonia Gandhi is pitch-perfect in her halting accented Hindi and stiff expressions. Ahana Kumra sporting Priyanka Gandhi’s characteristic short hair looks striking but has hardly any screen time, and Arjun Mathur playing Rahul Gandhi with a plastered smile again looks his part, but doesn’t enjoy much attention. One has to admit that there is some joy in seeing Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani or Naveen Patnaik’s doppelgangers on screen.
The only one who stands out for his complete lack of physical similarity was Akshaye Khanna. Playing author Baru himself, Akshaye Khanna becomes the accidental focal point in a film about Manmohan Singh.
Constantly breaking the fourth wall and talking to us with a smirk that is distracting and at times even misleading, was Baru weaving his own version of the truth? One might never quite know.
Also inserted is a lot of real life TV footage of fiery speeches and quotes. The movie opens with actual scenes from outside the Congress party headquarters as the UPA managed to defeat the NDA with 335 seats. The suspense before Sonia Gandhi announced Dr Singh’s name as the PM, how circumstances conspired and coalition government concerns ensured a man who is malleable, ‘accidentally’ makes it to the country’s top chair.
In keeping with the book, the film frequently hints at how difficult it was for Manmohan Singh to run the government effectively with a party that wasn’t always by his side .
The power centre being 10 Janpath and the single-minded agenda of the party to somehow project Rahul Gandhi as it’s next prime ministerial candidate creating several roadblocks.
At 110 mins, the length doesn’t hurt at all and director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte keeps the proceedings nicely paced. However, if the idea was to know Mr Singh better, this soft spoken man who was the PM for two terms straight, what went on in his mind, why did he allow the party to guide him at crucial junctures or why did he not assert himself, we come out knowing as little as we did when we went in.
Anupam Kher’s prosthetics and body language were bang on but the screenplay never allowed him to truly go skin deep into his role.
The Accidental Prime Minister might be liked by people of a particular political hue more, but irrespective of that the film is a fairly innocuous watch . If one has read the book one would be familiar with the stance it would take. I’d go with 3 quints out of 5. Watch it, and here’s hoping we have more brave political films to look forward to and a healthy environment where they are allowed to be released!