Cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Suzanne Bernert, Arjun Mathur, Divya Seth, Aahana Kumra, Vipin Sharma,
Director: Vijay Ratnakar Gutte
It’s hard to say what is more embarrassing in the film The Accidental Prime Minister – its content or its craft. Based on a book by Sanjaya Baru, a newspaper journalist before he was appointed as media advisor to former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the film, directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, is an undisguised, shrewdly timed propaganda in an election year.
Its screenplay cobbled together from convenient selections of Baru’s book, the film depicts Dr Singh as noble but naïve; a victim of the political machinations of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. He’s painted as an honourable man who had the nation’s best interests at heart, but also as a weak, spineless figure who failed to stop rampant corruption within his party.
Anupam Kher is a fine, dependable actor but his performance as Dr Singh amounts to imitation, without capturing the spirit of the man. Anupam mimics the swinging arms, the awkward walking style, the high-pitched voice, but turns it into caricature. There is no sign of the sharp mind, or of the world-class economist in this one-note approach.
Then there’s Baru, as played by Akshaye Khanna, who, let’s just call The Smirker. Like Frank Underwood in House of Cards, he breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and smugly, sharing his insights on the PMO and its key players, and describing Indian politics as the Mahabharata, with Dr Singh as Bhishma. Akshaye conveys Baru’s fondness for the Prime Minister with sincerity and also his frustration at watching the elderly statesman get played. He never holds back from portraying Baru as someone that is ambitious, arrogant, and capable of getting into the snake pit if he has to.
Four writers are credited with penning the screenplay, yet there is no coherent story to speak of. It feels as if the makers cherry picked instances that show the Gandhis in a poor light or perpetuate a convenient narrative around the PM, and decided to string them together in the name of a script. The nuclear deal, the 2G scam, Coalgate – they’re all referenced.
The problem also is that none of this is done with any flair, or even a cursory eye for detail. The film is a hatchet job that looks like a hatchet job. It’s all so incompetently staged there were times I felt I was watching an MTV spoof. Although he appears only briefly, President APJ Kalam is played by a junior artiste in a bad wig and assigned a costume budget that couldn’t afford him a pair of trousers that reach all the way to his feet. Grainy news footage is interspersed into the film clumsily, and the many audio cuts (likely enforced by the censors) are jarring. There is virtually no element of drama or urgency, and the background score is deafening.
Some chuckles are to be had over the casting. In Suzanne Bernert the filmmakers find a dead-ringer for Sonia Gandhi, and Arjun Mathur and Aahana Kumra channel Rahul and Priyanka convincingly. If you’re a news junkie you could play ‘spot the politico’ as the frame fills up with actors playing Ahmed Patel, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar Singh and others.
Alas that’s not enough to keep you engaged in this nearly-two-hour film whose agenda and very reason to exist is transparent from the word go. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for The Accidental Prime Minister.
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