Cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna
Director: Vijay Gutte
It is a universally acknowledged fact that as far as it concerns political biopics, Sir Richard Attenborough raised the bar exceptionally high with Gandhi, his ode to Mahatma Gandhi. And thus far, no political film from India has come close.
When the trailer of The Accidental Prime Minister first appeared, there was hope that we may finally have a credible political film that represented actual events with the cinematic flourish that it deserved. That the film, bases it on a memoir by Sanjaya Baru, senior editor and former media advisor to Dr Manmohan Singh, only fanned the perception.
Unfortunately, first time director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s shot at mounting a political drama showcasing the trials and tribulations of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, fails to rise beyond mundane minutiae. Its linear and sequential narrative does not help nor does the fact that all efforts in detailing –costume, make-up and styling are restricted to the key players-namely Akshaye Khanna (Sanjaya Baru), Anupam Kher (Manmohan Singh) and Suzanne Bernert (Sonia Gandhi). The discrepancy between the big three and other characters like Jairam Ramesh, Ahmad Patel (with wigs that best represent a bad hair day) –sticks out like a sore thumb.
Starring Anupam Kher in the title role, what The Accidental Prime Minister deserves credit for, is not skirting the issue of naming names of political heavyweights integral to the story.
It also allows a glimpse into the most enigmatic and possibly rather misunderstood Prime Ministers of our times.
In 2004, shortly after Singh was sworn in as the Prime Minister, he had an interaction with members of the Editor’s Guild of India for which I was present. After the routine political questions had been asked by various editors, I got an opportunity to slip in a question about his experience of being in the hot seat. To which Dr Singh replied with a mischievous smile, “Well, there is never a dull moment.”
There is a fleeting glimpse of that quiet sense of humour in the film. There is a lot more about Dr Singh’s hands being tied on most occasions preventing him from being a strong PM.
For the most part, it casts a cursory glance at the series of events since Singh took over as the PM in 2004 till 2014 when the UPA was voted out, but rarely goes beyond skimming the surface. A significant chunk of the film is dedicated to his interactions with Baru and Baru’s observations on the proceedings in the PMO.
Vijay Gutte, Mayank Tiwari, Aditya Sinha, and Karl Dunne’s narrative does not delve too deeply on Dr Singh’s perennial dilemma of “To be or not to be”. Cinema allows characters to look inward and juxtapose it against external circumstances, establishing unique binaries, something that is, unfortunately, missing in The Accidental Prime Minister.
Of course, it is Anupam Kher’s transformation into Dr Singh that stands out in the film. He certainly looks the part– altering his voice as also the walk, which is something of an uncertain glide. His hand movements resemble that of a puppet and if it is political symbolism the Gutte is attempting, it’s effectively conveyed.
Unfortunately, despite his stellar efforts, the script offers little scope for the actor to go beyond impersonation. As far as actors are concerned, all biopics involve impersonation but the truly remarkable ones leave room for actors to bring their own interpretation or style to the characters. In a film that settles for broad strokes instead of nuance, the odds are already stacked against a memorable performance.
Akshaye Khanna plays Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media advisor till 2008, speaking to the audience (quite like Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood) about the world of politics plays the narrator smoothly. Suzanne Bernert as Congress President Sonia Gandhi bears a striking resemblance to the real-life Mrs G but is not given enough screen time to establish her character.
Unfortunately, despite all the good intent, The Accidental Prime Minister, quite like its protagonist, fails to deliver on the promise.
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