What we feared just happened.
The Bollywood biopic, a tainted genre dismissed for glorifying subjects, will continue with its dubious legacy.
The latest addition to this putrid pile — ‘PM Narendra Modi’ directed by Indian National Award-winning filmmaker Omung Kumar — doesn’t buck the trend.
Instead of a warts-and-all account of India’s most powerful and polarising leader, what we get is an unapologetic fanboy tribute to Modi. It’s a celebration of all things Modi.
Perhaps, you might even see a shining halo emerging from actor Vivek Oberoi’s silver wig. The remarkable rise of Modi, from a boy who sold tea in a small railway station in Vadnagar, Gujarat, to becoming one of India’s charismatic political heavyweights, might be heaving with potential, but director Kumar squanders it away by making it a sickeningly saintly tale. Just like Modi’s popular wardrobe choice — crisp, crease-free cotton kurtas in muted tones — his life is startlingly spotless and achingly stiff.
Forces are at work to portray India’s man-of-the-moment as an infallible people’s leader. There’s even a rap song that plays whenever on-screen Modi manages a rousing speech to extol the virtues of honest governance. Such squeaky clean conscience keepers make for boring, insipid cinema. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the drama? Where’s the grey zone, or even the grey matter?
The slew of unsavoury episodes in Modi’s life and regime, like the religious riots that erupted in Gujarat during his watch as the Chief Minister of the state or his religion-based politics, are sugarcoated beyond recognition. He’s shown as a misunderstood messiah who’s a keeper of humanity. His only religion is karma, which means service. Had the election commission not stalled the release during India’s polling phase during its Lok Sabha election, then this film would have been a visual pamphlet.
A scene in which he engineers a transformation of an angry mob to drop their swords in Gujarat during riots is something straight out of a school play. There’s overacting and heightened emotional speeches everywhere. Unless you are a Modi supporter in real life, you might detest such blatant veneration of a human being. You don’t have to denigrate your subject, but a bit of balance and restraint would have made this film palatable.
One of the primary takeaways from this film is that Oberoi’s on-screen persona, as the Indian Prime Minister, can do no wrong.
Oberoi tries his hardest to inject life and verve into his role, but there’s a good chance he leaves you unmoved. Physically, he does a good impression of Modi, but just wearing similar clothes doesn’t translate into gravitas or dignity. The dialogues lack soul, as the writers are focused on making the central character perfectly pious. The opposition party — the Indian National Congress — is shown as an ineffective, charisma-free bunch, but Modi’s own party has some colourful characters.
The other supporting characters like Zarina Wahab as Modi’s mother and Manoj Joshi as Modi’s biggest support and strategist are serviceable.
They aren’t offensive, but nor are they remarkable.
If you are a Modi fan, then you are likely to savour this sucrose-fuelled biopic. But if you are a movie fan, then this is no riveting cinema and you may even see red in this saffron-hued utopian tale.
Film: ‘PM Narendra Modi’
Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Vivek Oberoi, Zarina Wahab, Manoj Joshi and Darshan Kumaar.
Stars: 2 out of 5