‘While it may not be an out-and-out hit job on the Gandhi family, the movie is all about one aspect: How Dr Singh struggled with the family and the party all through his prime ministership,’ notes Utkarsh Mishra.
When Sanjaya Baru, former media adviser to the prime minister, released his book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh in 2014, he did it only because he thought Dr Singh ‘deserves a better treatment’.
By his own admission, Baru was disturbed by the way the PM was ridiculed in the media over the multiple scams that surfaced in that period while his party was not making a genuine effort to salvage his image.
2014 being an election year, the book made headlines solely as an authentication by a PMO insider of the long peddled claim that Dr Singh was a ‘puppet PM’ and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi wielded the real power.
Later, Baru regretted that only this aspect of his book was highlighted and not the many good things he had to say about Dr Singh in the book.
Five years later, a movie based on the book also fails to do the same.
While it may not be an out-and-out hit job on the Gandhi family, the movie is all about one aspect of Baru’s book: How Dr Singh struggled with the family and the party all through his prime ministership.
It claims to be a ‘dramatised’ and ‘fictionalised’ version of the book. But the only thing they needed to dramatise was Dr Singh’s private conversations with Sonia Gandhi. As Baru makes it clear he did not know much about those conversations.
Regardless of the fact that the book actually has a substantial portion explaining how Sonia shared a cordial relationship with Dr Singh and consulted him even on personal and family matters, the movie shows the relationship to be perpetually strained.
However, it cannot be denied that no Congress leader, no matter how senior, can go against the will of the Gandhi family. And even Baru has made his discomfort with this fact very clear in the book.
But there are certain moments in the movie that — wittingly or unwittingly — tend to support a particular political narrative, the most conspicuous one being where Rahul Gandhi is speaking to Sonia in Italian.
One of the few ‘dramatised’ scenes, which are not part of the book, shows Dr Singh offering his resignation to Sonia in face of multiple corruption scandals rocking the government, but the latter asks him to stay because ‘How will Rahul take over in such a hostile environment?’
Another one where Sonia is advising Dr Singh against warming up to Pakistan and leave the job for the ‘future PM’ has been muted by the censor board even when it was allowed — and is still present — in the trailer.
There are a couple of scenes where Dr Singh is shown to be struggling to speak in Parliament amid chaos. But the camera remains fixed on the Treasury benches and no protest by the Opposition benches — then largely occupied by the Bharatiya Janata Party — is shown.
So, it is all about how Dr Singh was attacked by the media and left to fend for himself by his party and no word of what the BJP leaders used to say about Dr Singh back then.
At many places, Baru’s character, played by Akshaye Khanna, passes opinions — not necessarily part of the book — which tend to suit the popular political narrative against the Gandhis.
The movie also contains a dramatic representation of Rahul Gandhi’s infamous interview with Arnab Goswami, with Goswami’s character having an expression of disgust that the anchor didn’t actually have.
If one is able to find these subtle ways in which the movie takes on the Gandhis, one may find it to be a well-made movie.
It nicely brings out Baru’s affection for Dr Singh, successfully capturing the incidents narrated in the book where Baru projected a strong image of the PM and where he tried to convince him to take credit for his work, not let it go to Rahul or Sonia.
In terms of acting, Anupam Kher has tried his best to portray Dr Singh. Granted, it was hard for him to make his voice so feeble and still sound natural, but there are no excuses for his overdramatic walk.
As always, Vipin Sharma impresses with his role portraying Ahmed Patel.
Notwithstanding the book describing Patel as being ‘polite and deferential’ towards the PM, the movie shows him always passing snide remarks.
But undoubtedly the most dramatised character is that of Baru, played by Khanna — a flamboyant man with a diverse wardrobe having immense charm and wit. This presentation has given Khanna a chance to show his superior acting skills, making his character most influential, certainly according to the script’s demand.
It can be said that the movie would have been judged better by both sides of the political aisle had it appeared while the UPA was in power.
It could have conveyed why India’s Grand Old Party should not have been hijacked by one family. Or why a person like Dr Singh must be taken seriously.
But in ‘New India’, a list of leaders has been made who were denied their due by ‘the family’ and it contains everyone from Sardar Patel to Narasimha Rao, the latest addition being Sitaram Kesri.
The movie tries to put Dr Singh also on that list. However, it is uncertain if the makers of this list are ready to include him as yet. After all, he’s still very much a part of the Congress and keeps criticising the government over all major issues.
Lastly, one may say the movie will attract two sets of viewers — those who follow politics and know what has happened in the country in the past two decades and those who woke up to Indian politics only during the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
For the latter, the movie will certainly strengthen their dislike for the Gandhi family while some may also feel for Dr Singh.
As for the former, they can enjoy the movie without being swayed by it in any way.
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