Hindi Reviews

The Accidental Prime Minister Review: Propaganda And Fake News To Sell Bad Acting

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Director: Vijay Gutte

Cast: Suzanne Bernert, Anupam Kher, Aahana Kumra, Arjun Mathur

Composer: Sudip Roy, Sadhu Tiwari

Dr Manmohan Singh worked for the United Nations for three years between 1966 and 69. He also studied at Cambridge and Oxford and travelled a fair bit, in various roles in the government and bureaucracy before becoming the Prime Minister. The Hindi film Pukar, released in the year 2000, features a dance-off between Madhuri Dixit and Prabhu Deva. The song, ‘Hey Ke Sera Sera, Jo Bhi Ho So Ho’.

It’s therefore a tiny bit dishonest to make it seem like a well educated, well travelled man has not heard the phrase ‘Que Sera Sera’ till 2006. And that a journalist has to tell him what it means.

But then, if you are out to make a propaganda film intended to tarnish your opposition in the run up to an important election, you would take that potshot, wouldn’t you. And so, The Accidental Prime Minister is an important film. The book that it is based on – with the same name – too was released just before the 2014 general elections in India. And the film now comes four months ahead of the general elections. Not suspicious at all you see.

*****

The Accidental Prime Minister stars Akshaye Khanna, Anupam Kher, Suzane Bernert, Aahna Kumra, Divya Seth, and others. It is based on a book written by Sanjaya Baru, the former Media Advisor to Dr Manmohan Singh, with a screenplay by Karl Dunne. The film is directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, and is produced by Bohra Bros. and Pen.

The book itself when it came out, was denounced by the PMO as not true and a misuse of privilege that Baru enjoyed. Baru, for his part, said that the book was meant to be an empathetic portrayal of the Prime Minister as a human being and said he was amused at the terming of the book as fiction.

*****

Reports claimed Anupam Kher had “nailed” his portrayal of Dr Manmohan Singh. Perhaps they meant it in a different sense? Anupam Kher plays Dr Manmohan less like a human being and more like a ventriloquist’s dummy. His hands pinned to his side, with just the forearms swinging a little to the front, walking in a minced and campy fashion. If he is not camp, he is shuffling. Anupam Kher also seems to have a soft spot for standing at windows. He gets up from his seat, walks to the window, stares out poignantly, and returns to his seat. All the while, a member of his team is briefing him.

I guess if you really hate the person your character is based on, you would do all you can to belittle them. It’s a pity this man runs a school for actors and is passing this on to future actors. There is such a thing as professional ethics.

The Dr Manmohan Singh of TAPM is a weak man – a character assessment the film’s hero and professional breaker of the fourth wall Akshaye Khanna, who plays Sanjaya Baru, agrees with in as much as he is the one who gives us this information. In one of the many asides, he smugly passes on to us via the camera.

The real Dr Manmohan Singh however, seems a much stronger man that the film will have you believe. When he left office in 2014 after his party lost the elections, he said history would judge him kindly. Every passing day seems to be proving the statement. Ever since he left office, the country has stumbled, with rising inflation, rising hate-crime, falling employment prospects, loss of financial stability, and an erosion of  social and liberal values.

However, since this is a review and not a political speech, back to the film.

Akshaye Khanna is Sanjaya Baru, the son of a former bureaucrat, and a high flying journalist and editor who in an early scene plays two senior politicians against each other. Perhaps beginner’s luck? Because, for the remainder of the film, Sanjaya Baru insists that he is not a politician and cannot play political games. For someone who does not play political games, he sure knows which buttons to press, where, when to get what he wants: unfettered access to the Prime Minister, and a wedge between the party and the government.

Akshaye Khanna as Sanjaya Baru dresses suavely (although the checked suit didn’t really sit well on him), winks and whispers at us freely and frankly, and smirks throughout the film. The smirk stays put even after he loses his job as the PM’s Media Advisor, even when the man he supposedly worships is in hospital recovering from a surgery, even when he has lost access to the very man he wants to show the human side of.

Suzanne Bernert plays Sonia Gandhi. She looks the part, and with make up and hairstyle and accessories, does feel like the real Sonia Gandhi. But then because this film wants you to believe in evil personified, Suzanne makes us think her every word, even the way she blinks her eyes, has multiple intentions and that each of those intentions is designed to run the country to ground.

The rest of the cast are all also scheming villains more interested in personal gain and turf war, but also willing to be subservient to the evil family. Because clearly that’s how to run a country for 10 years and steer it through an economic resurgence and bring more people out of poverty than ever before.

*****

The Tamil Nadu state government releases public service ads that play at all theatres in the state. Compared to the other slick commercials for big brands, these ads – intended to raise awareness on issues like communicable diseases, environmental pollution, smoking, and such – look, sound, feel cheaply produced. Usually a celebrity appears as the all-knowing good soul who will save the day and offer advice. There is no major story or plot being told. The film begins with the message, and ends with the message.

TAPM is that, with a bigger budget. It’s a corporate film for the BJP.

No one expects Anupam Kher or Akshaye Khanna to jump to an outdoor location to beat up baddies, or have elaborate romances while singing duets with the loves of their lives, but motion picture is a bit of stretched label for this. You could have filmed the entire proceedings in one setting or staged a play with minimal set work. You proceed from one scene to another with hardly any movement, the actors are little more than talking props who diligently speak the lines they’ve been given and exit stage left. Plot points are merely spaces to insert some archival footage from the news channels and then cut to politicians scheming in plush sofas.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, also plays with truth in order to tell a story. That film too is propaganda of a sort. However, there is some movement, a plot, an overall narrative arc that takes us from rooting for our hero to hating him and despising him, then work our way through pity, sympathy, all the way back to loving him all over again.

In TAPM, there is no such arc. It fails as a film to engage and entertain. And, barely informs.

*****

The Accidental Prime Minister review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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