Madam Chief Minister cast: Richa Chadha, Manav Kaul, Akshay Oberoi, Saurabh Shukla
Madam Chief Minister director: Subhash Kapoor
Madam Chief Minister rating: 2 stars
Can your film portray a chief minister of UP, who is Dalit, female, short-haired, spunky, ambitious, and claim that the character does not resemble Mayawati? The lead player in Subhash Kapoor’s ‘Madam Chief Minister’ is all of the above. Do we believe it, or faint?
Tara Roop Ram (Chadha) is the only girl of her family who has managed to come out alive of that inhuman ‘sadiyon-puraana’ (ancient) tradition that kills baby girls as soon they are born. She’s not only the wrong gender, but also the wrong caste, as she discovers soon enough when a college romance goes wrong. Her patently upper caste lover laughs at her when she talks of marriage: ‘rakh lenge’ (will ‘keep you’) he says, and is astounded when she feels disparaged. His kind of people have always behaved thus with her kind of people, so what is she going on about?
The formation of a strong, populist leader is the most engaging part of the film. Tara learns the importance of ‘grassroots engagement’ from her mentor, Masterji ( Shukla), who leads an army of cycle-borne activists from village to village, amassing a great deal of local support. Masterji’s old-school views that ‘netas’ need to work for the people without getting swept away by their position, buoy Tara’s own street-smart ways, which blows away savvy rivals, both old warhorses, and power-hungry young turks (Oberoi). And all too soon UP, where ‘people win elections not on the basis of metros but mandirs’ has its first madam chief minister, any similarities with any person, living or dead, being purely imaginary.
Asking us to swallow that there’s no connection between that erstwhile real-life CM, and this one, is a stretch. But that’s not the real problem. By turning the rest of the film into a shallow political thriller, and side-stepping the issue of caste, the chance to say something significant about this biggest elephant in the room, is squandered. What we are left with is all-too familiar elements : how many times have we heard of political satraps stuffing rival leaders into resorts, luring cops with sops, and so on? A thread involving her faithful assistant Danish Khan (Kaul) could have been radical, but gets drowned in melodrama.
This film had potential. It could have redressed a shameful lack. There have been so few full-fledged films on Dalit characters, where the Dalit plays the lead in a clear, unambiguous manner. Done better, it could have been a strong mainstream statement against caste-gender-class discrimination. That poor ‘jhaadu’, which got such bad press when the film’s publicity rolled out a few weeks back, comes on for a flash, never to be seen again: all those militating against propagating stereotypes can rest easy. Chadha is in every frame, and shares some winsome moments with Shukla, but sadly, Madam Chief Minister ends up being strictly passable.