Even though the Election Commission has deferred the release of the biopic PM Narendra Modi, a slew of political films have been making news this election season. Of these, some are focused on Modi alone. Eros Now is streaming Mihir Bhuta’s Modi: Journey of a Common Man, a “biographical web series”. A month ago, just before Model Code of Conduct kicked in, a feature-length Gujarati film Hu Narendra Modi Banva Mangu Chu was released. Actor Vivek Oberoi, who plays the titular character in PM Narendra Modi, said in an earlier interview, “If the film shows Modiji as a great man, it is because he is a great man.”
The other projects with political themes this season include a biopic on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi titled My Name Is RaGa. The film, written and directed by Rupesh Paul, doesn’t have a date yet. There was also The Accidental Prime Minister, an unflattering account of former PM Manmohan Singh. Filmmakers have also been cashing in on hyper-nationalism through projects like Uri: The Surgical Strike. Recently, another film on the recent Balakot Strikes was announced by Mahaveer Jain, the producer of the 2018 short film Chalo Jeete Hain, again based on Modi’s childhood.
The Tashkent Files, about the controversial death of former Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, is scheduled for release this Friday. The maker, BJP supporter and current CBFC board member Vivek Agnihotri, however, has been served a notice by Shastri’s grandson, a former Congress secretary. In the press conference held yesterday in Mumbai, Agnihotri squarely blamed “top Congress leadership” of “malicious intent”.
Most of these filmmakers, however, insist their projects are “only an inspirational story”. The writer of Modi: Journey of a Common Man, Bhuta says, “It’s my version of the man. He is someone who sees the good in everyone and everything, with the single-minded objective of serving the nation.” Oberoi says his biopic is the “story of a man who has redefined India for the world”.
The exception, perhaps, is Paul. A former journalist from Kerala and director of films such as My Mother’s Laptop, Paul admits timing the release with the election season to gain attention.
These projects seem to align with the political ideologies of their makers, whitewashing the image of the protagonists in some cases. Bhuta, who has known the PM for 30 years and is currently a serving member of CBFC, asserts that their project aims to stay away from politics. “For example, the Gujarat riots are a controversial but important incident in his career. So we do show how he came to the aid of the people and yet was accused of masterminding the riots but was eventually proven innocent,” says the writer.
Oberoi, however, says they didn’t delve into the PM’s shortcomings as the film means to inspire people. “But each story needs a conflict so we show how he has dealt with the criticism meted out at him constantly,” says the actor.
The reverence on screen is perhaps a cinematic representation of these makers’ own opinion of the leaders.
Jain, who has been instrumental in “bridging the gap between Modiji and the film industry” by arranging several meetings between key members of the Hindi film industry with the PM, asserts, “Those who criticise him must not have met Modiji because whoever meets him knows that he is a well-meaning, hard-working man who aims to serves the nation.”