This adaptation of Sanjaya Baru's book of the same name, which also carries a disclaimer stating it's a work of "entertainment", covers a 10-year period from the 2004 general election " from Dr Manmohan Singh's elevation to prime minister by party president Sonia Gandhi to 2014, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ceded power.
When he took office, Singh hired journalist Baru as his media strategist, giving him a front row seat to the workings of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) from 2004-08. Akshaye Khanna conveys Baru's frustration with Singh's cautious approach, his fondness for the statesman and also divulges not only his own ambitions but squarely establishes the level of interference from the party president and her team.
Anupam Kher takes details of Singh's walk, voice, mannerisms and exaggerates them. The awkwardly swinging arms, slightly stooped shoulders and timid voice, along with the slant of the story become the dominant image whereas Singh's sharp mind and towering achievements as an economist of world repute are painted over. Singh's walk is shown puppet-like, and the former Reserve Bank governor and chief economic advisor is portrayed as someone reluctant to take decisions confidently or without guidance.
Director Vijay Rantakar Gutte takes liberties with the characterisation and appearance of Baru. He is imagined like Frank Underwood from the web show House of Cards, breaking the fourth wall and conspiratorially sharing his insights and opinions on the PMO. One dialogue that summarises Baru's position is: "Doctor put family before party and that was his biggest mistake."
The film's casting is one of its stronger suits, with the actors getting ample support from wigs, make-up and costume, and often being referred to by their given names.
The fumbles in The Accidental Prime Minister lie in the screenplay (by Gutte, Mayank Tiwari, Aditya Sinha and Karl Dunne) and the tonally confused direction. At times it is comic, at times tense, mostly jumbled, hurried and without layers. Gutte intercuts news footage with dramatisation and the use of diffused lighting only makes the images more tacky. The overused background music also changes character to establish the mood of the scene. The occasional humour is showcased in scenes between Singh and Baru.
The intent of the film is less confused than the direction, with the timing of the release (in election year), and the selection of a book which was disavowed by the Singh family and Congress party.
The political drama of 'turf wars' is more reference than demonstration in this 110-minute long film which hurtles through a decade of events including two elections, nuclear treaties, scams (3G, CWG), heart attacks etc. Your heart goes out to Singh (Kher channeling empathy) when he attempts to resign in the wake of scandals not of his making, but for which he was blamed.
Suzanne Bernet is on point as Sonia Gandhi (Italian-Indian accent, dead-pan face et al) " a tough leader aided by a sharp career bureaucrat Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma). Arjun Mathur plays Rahul Gandhi as an incoherent man-child while Aahana Kumra has two blink-and-miss scenes as Priyanka Gandhi.
I came away with Akshaye Khanna's smug smile and his jaunty walk. He is conspiratorial throughout, occasionally pensive and seemingly having the last laugh in an inelegant adaptation.