The Accidental Prime Minister movie cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Vipin Sharma, Suzanne Bernert, Munish Bhardwaj, Arjun Mathur, Aahana Kumra
The Accidental Prime Minister movie director: Vijay Ratnakar Gutte
The Accidental Prime Minister movie rating: No stars
Going in, you are aware that The Accidental Prime Minister has been crafted from the point-of-view of the author of the book (of the same name) that the film is based on. You are ready for a very personal slice-of-life, not an all-encompassing macro look at the UPA years during which Manmohan Singh was the PM, and Sanjaya Baru his media adviser.
But any faint notion that this will be a balanced view goes out of the window as soon as it opens.
The Accidental Prime Minister is an out-an-out propaganda film, created for the specific purpose of making the former prime minister look like a weak, spineless man, a puppet whose strings were controlled by The Family (the word is blipped out, but there is no hiding the movement of the lips). Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, Priyanka and the cunning caucus around them are shown as the real power behind the throne. The film is careful to underline that Singh was honorable, upright and personally incorruptible, but that he overlooked the corruption of his party colleagues, and was paralysed because of the far-reaching influence of The Family.
Even political newbies are aware of this narrative, and The Accidental Prime Minister doesn’t have any breaking headlines for those who were following the developments during that time.
What comes as a surprise is just how shockingly bad and shoddy the film is. There is a complete absence of any art or craft in its making. Almost all the characters, including the two main leads, Singh (Kher) and Baru (Khanna), come off as caricatures. Kher minces through the film, his voice reedy, thin, shaky, his body language nervous and unconfident: at no point does Kher’s Singh look like a man who inhabited the PM ki kursi for two full Lok Sabha terms with any conviction.
Breaking the fourth wall is a convention used sparingly in theatre and film to score a point. Khanna’s smug, smirking Baru keeps turning around and addressing us, breaking the illusion of the ‘reel’, claiming first person vantage of telling us the ‘real’ story. Khanna is always togged out in techni-coloured sharply tailored suits, and is shown to have the kind of enviable access in the corridors of power, literally, that very few senior ministers can ever hope to dream of. In fact, this film is so much more about Baru that it could just as easily have been dubbed ‘The Omnipresent Media Adviser’.
There doesn’t seem to have been a script in place, just a series of scenes meant to damn Singh, and studded with some unintentionally hilarious passages (the PM smiling to the tune of Que sera sera, with his wife, played by Divya Seth, sitting alongside). The sets are lurid: are those South Block rooms really painted in all those yellows and magentas?
Apart from the actors playing the real people (the startlingly-similar looking Bernert stands in for Sonia, Mathur for Rahul, Kumra for Priyanka, Sharma for Ahmad Patel, as well as actors playing Vajpayee, Advani, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh, and other political heavy-weights), there are also actual newsreel flashes with the actual faces: why?
Singh may well have been an ‘accidental’ PM, in Baru’s succinct words, and history may or may not judge him differently. But it is no accident that the film is out now. The release is completely intentional: the polls are around the corner.
And yes, just for the record, propaganda can be well done too.