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PM Narendra Modi movie review: An unabashed hagiography

As a bio-pic, PM Narendra Modi inhabits muddled, post-truth territory. As a hagiography though, genuflecting at the altar of the man, it’s perfect. It's uncritical, unquestioning, high on rhetoric. And there's nothing accidental about it.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: May 24, 2019 3:31:15 pm
SC hearing on Friday, EC watches Modi biopic, reiterates stand: Defer its release PM Narendra Modi movie review: The Vivek Oberoi starrer is a tacky, laughably bad biopic.

PM Narendra Modi movie cast: Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi, Prashant Narayanan, Anjan Srivastav, Darshan Kumar, Zarina Wahab, Rajendra Gupta, Boman Irani
PM Narendra Modi movie director: Omung Kumar
PM Narendra Modi movie rating: Two stars

Sometimes the arrival of a film in theaters becomes a marker. The PM Narendra Modi biopic, called, what else, ‘PM Narendra Modi’, comes out the day the BJP celebrates its historic mandate to rule India for a second consecutive term.

The Vivek Oberoi starrer wasn’t allowed to be released during the elections, but no matter, it’s here now, and doubtless, the faithful will flock to it, bathed in joy and delirium, chanting, along with film, Modi, Modiiiiii, Modi, Modiiiiii.

Because there’s nothing else to do: the film makes sure that it is, in every moment, properly in awe of its subject, man and boy, as it tracks Narendra Damadordas Modi’s astonishing trajectory from a ‘chai-wala’s (Gupta) son, to a ‘pracharak’ of the RSS, to his rise and rise, in Gujarat, and then on the national stage, ending with his taking the oath in 2014.

Those who have swallowed the myth-making whole will watch the film as a reaffirmation of their faith. And who cares for the disbelievers, as they collect their jaws from the floor as the film goes from one blatant white-wash to another: that as a young man, Modi walked out of a potential marital alliance and went to the Himalayas to do ‘tapasya’; that the post-Godhra riots couldn’t be controlled because the ‘neighbouring states’ didn’t ‘help’; that messiah Modi was a ‘secular’ helper during the earthquake relief operations; and so on and on.

After a point you stop counting. The film is not a mere bio-pic, it is a full-fledged, unabashed, unapologetic hagiography. What else could it be?

It takes its cautionary note (which unspools in the opening credits) about taking creative liberties very seriously indeed. Those who’ve lived through the times that ‘Jai’ Modi was growing up, and creating a space for himself in the political firmament, with the help of his ‘Veeru’, Amit Shah (Joshi; this ‘Jai-Veeru’ coupling comes up as a special mention in the film, I kid you not) may wonder if there is an alternative universe that he inhabits.

In keeping with its tone and tenor, the film is completely reverential towards its subject, projecting him as noble and sacrificial and wise beyond his years even when very young, whose love for his own ‘ba’ (Wahab) is never more than the love he has for Bharat Mata. The Opposition is shown as weak and venal (Manmohan Singh doesn’t have a single speaking moment, only keeping ‘maun’); a corrupt businessman (Narayanan) is shown to be in cahoots with a complicit journalist (Kumar) as they plot Modi’s downfall; Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and their cohorts come off as ineffective hand-wringers.

Even his own party colleagues, except perhaps for Vajpayee, are ciphers, as he cuts an inexorable swathe towards the top post. Boman Irani as the legendary Parsi industrialist who brought Tata Motors to Gujarat, having exited Bengal, comes off more visible than the former Prime Minister who had such a big hand in Modi being able to get to where he finally did.

As Modi, Oberoi is told early in the movie – ‘aapko abhineta nahin, neta hona chahiya tha’—and he then proceeds to read faithfully off a lax, mediocre script. Hardly a frame passes by without the leading man dominating the screen, which pretty much reflects what’s happened in real life in the past five years. Here’s where reel and real intersect. Of course, there’s not a single subtle note in the two hour and some running time: everything is underlined in such lines as ‘ Violence has no religion and religion has no violence’; ‘chai bechta tha, unki tarah desh nahin’, ‘baap ka naam nahin, buss aap ka kaam’, and this one, which trumps all, ‘Modi ek soch hai ; aap sab mein hai Modi’.

The film offers up no debatable points, no what-ifs, no grey areas. There’s no mention of ‘hindutva’, only ‘Hinduism’ which is also, as he helpfully points out, a ‘soch’. As a tacky, laughably bad bio-pic, it inhabits muddled, post-truth territory. As a hagiography though, genuflecting at the altar of the man, it’s perfect. It’s uncritical, unquestioning, low on fact, high on rhetoric. And there’s nothing accidental about it.

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