India, the world's largest democracy, went to polls on April 11 this year. The stakes were high and political parties went the extra mile to woo voters. Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi went head to head on the ground, and their cinematic counterparts are set to battle it out at the box office now.
This week we have Vivek Oberoi stepping into the shoes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a film on the Indian Prime Minister. Vivek's film is seeing the light of day on May 24, a day after the results of Lok Sabha 2019 polls are announced. This is victory for Vivek Oberoi, who has been struggling to see the release of his film since April 5. Before the Omung Kumar-directed biopic PM Narendra Modi is thrown to the audience, we take a look at the films that kept us busy this election season.
THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER
This Lok Sabha election, we saw the battlefield shrinking to 70mm. 2019 kicked off with the release of Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's The Accidental Prime Minister on January 11. Critics unanimously considered the political drama to be a hardly-veiled attack on the Congress.
"Mujhe toh doctor saab Bhishma jaise lagte hai. Jinme koi buraai nahi hai, par family drama ke victim ho gaye," Akshaye Khanna's character says in The Accidental Prime Minister about Dr Manmohan Singh, former Indian Prime Minister, on whom the film is based.
Over and over, it is emphasised that the "family" (referring to the Nehru-Gandhi family) is dictatorial and interferes excessively, whether it is the making of policies, to trying to make Manmohan Singh sit out the Lok Sabha election. Not just this, the possible prime ministerial candidate of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, is shown to be a bumbling novice to the point of mockery.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had no ostensible connection with The Accidental Prime Minister, the official Twitter handle of the party shared the trailer and wrote, "Riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM's chair till the time heir was ready?"
Interestingly, director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte has a connection with the ruling party too - his father Ratnakar Gutte contested the 2014 Assembly elections as a BJP-alliance candidate from the Gangakhed seat in Maharashtra.
Just two weeks after The Accidental Prime Minister, the Shiv Sena came out with Thackeray, the biopic on Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, which was written and produced by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut. Since it was officially sponsored by the party, the film did not even attempt to be subtle.
Bal Thackeray's Hindu Hriday Samrat image is highlighted throughout the film. In an early scene, when the judge asks him about inciting his supporters to tear down the Babri Masjid, Thackeray replies, "Nahi, nahi. Toda nahi, saaf kiya." This is immediately followed by roaring chants of 'Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram' in the background.
Thackeray is no more than a series of provocative speeches, with tigers roaring all over the background music. The Marathi manoos is reminded that the Shiv Sena deserves their vote as it was Bal Thackeray who ended the monopoly of "saale yandugundu" and got them jobs at a time when they were largely overlooked in the newly-emerging service sector.
PM NARENDRA MODI
Sometime in January, the PM Narendra Modi biopic, starring Vivek Oberoi in the eponymous role, was announced. The shoot was wrapped up in record time and was set to hit the theatres on April 11, on the very day of the election. However, the Election Commission stalled its release on the grounds that it violates the model code of conduct and could influence voters.
The trailer left little doubt that PM Narendra Modi is anything but a surreptitious advertisement for the ruling party. As a child, Narendra Modi worships the national flag and when in power, he thunders warnings to Pakistan - "Agar dobara hum par haath uthaya, toh haath kaat dunga!"
Omung Kumar's PM Narendra Modi has been accused of whitewashing the controversies that have plagued the prime minister for several years. When Vivek was asked if the film will show anything negative about Narendra Modi, he told India Today Television, "If you're making a film that's aspirational... Forget me. I'm a small filmmaker, this is a small film. Let's talk about a film like Gandhi, which was a multiple Academy Award-winning film by Richard Attenborough. I'll give you critics of that film also who will say that it is not an accurate depiction of Gandhi. 'You have deified the man', 'You have not represented his mistakes correctly'... Nuks toh nikaalenge hi log yaar!"
In an interview to IndiaToday.in this week, Vivek reiterated his stand on the biopic. "It's not a documentary. I am not there to present facts. To me it's an emotional journey, an inspirational story. You'd feel that someone from a humble background would feel intimidated that may be their education doesn't match those of global leaders. But here he is outspoken, walking toe to toe and hobnobbing with all these international leaders, being so tech savvy, so forward. Without agendas, without opposition, without critics, without criticism, no story is complete. Any inspirational story is about how you rise above challenges, all these are there in the film," said the actor on whether his film criticises PM Narendra Modi.
MY NAME IS RAGA
Right after the PM Narendra Modi biopic went on floors, Kamasutra 3D director Rupesh Paul announced My Name Is RaGa, which attempts to show the rise of Congress president Rahul Gandhi after facing immense negativity. If you thought that the Congress was in any way associated with the film, you could not be farther from the truth.
Director Rupesh Paul revealed in an interview with a newspaper that he is the "producer on paper" as "people who are investing money don't want to reveal their names". He said, "Some of them are BJP workers, and some are close to the party and don't wish to reveal their identities. The producers may or may not put their names, depending on what they wish after the film is handed over."
When the trailer hit the internet, it was mercilessly trolled and called a "parody" film. Sample this: there is a scene in which a woman presumed to be Rahul Gandhi's love interest asks him, "Tumhe pata hai ki hum tumse itna pyaar kyun karte hai? Kyunki tumne humein jeetna sikhaya hai. Jis Rahul ka logon ne mazaak udaya, aaj woh unhi logon ka pyaara RaGa hai." He then winks at her in response. As subtle as a sledgehammer.
THE TASHKENT FILES
Vivek Agnihotri's The Tashkent Files hit the theatres on April 12, a day after India kicked off the first phase of Lok Sabha polls, and its motive was questionable. The film attempted to unravel the mystery behind the death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent, hours after signing a peace agreement with Pakistan.
One character in the film even explained the concept of "dimlighting" - "kamre mein itni kum roshni kar do ki sab dhundhla ho jaaye aur kisiko pata hi na chale ki sach kya hai aur jhooth kya hai". The same can be said about the film, which tosses around conspiracy theories before pinning the blame on the Congress and Indira Gandhi. But there is a catch - The Tashkent Files "does not claim historical accuracy" despite masquerading unproven "facts" as the truth.
The film was panned by critics, but is still in theatres, in the fifth week of its release.
It looks like the list of biopics of political leaders whose parties are contesting in the Lok Sabha polls this year is unending. The Election Commission obstructed the release of several films for being in violation of the model code of conduct.
A film "inspired" by the struggles of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, called Baghini: Bengal Tigress was supposed to hit the theatres earlier this month.
The release of Ram Gopal Varma's Laxmi's NTR, based on the life of former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N T Rama Rao, was also delayed. The commission halted its release in Andhra Pradesh on the grounds that it "purported to depict N Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and a leader of a recognised political party, in a manner allegedly diminishing the electoral prospect of his party". The film, however, was allowed to release in Telangana.
Udyama Simham, a biopic of the Chief Minister of Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao, also could not be released as it promoted the leader and disturbed the "level-playing field". Interestingly, Ram Gopal Varma announced his own film on the chief minister, titled Tiger KCR, which will be out later this year.
While the results of the box office battle might take some time to reach us, India will know the results of the actual battle tomorrow.
However, looks like we will have to wait another week to see the biopic on PM Narendra Modi.