The Accidental Prime Minister Review: A Disappointing Launch for the BJP’s 2019 Campaign


The Accidental Prime Minister Review: A Disappointing Launch for the BJP’s 2019 Campaign

Illustration: Akshita Monga

The Accidental Prime Minister is a movie starring the husband of a sitting BJP MP and the son of a former BJP MP, and directed by the son of somebody who stood for the 2014 assembly elections on a BJP ticket. So it’s safe to assume that none of these chaps have any ulterior motive in sucking up to Modiji by making a propaganda movie just four months before the general elections.

At first, The Accidental Prime Minister appears to be a layered film. In order to go and enjoy it, you first create a little dent in your pocket by spending on fuel to get to the theatre, and thereafter owing to inflation and GST, you exhaust your life savings on popcorn. I don’t know if it’s by design but before you watch the Manmohan Singh biopic, you witness the Modi biopic unveil in front of you.

The movie starts off in the year 2004. The UPA has won the general elections and Sonia Gandhi – played by the grown-up version of the robot Vicky from the hit ’90s show Small Wonder – turns down the post of Prime Minister, appointing Manmohan Singh instead. As Manmohan takes office and grapples with the new job, he appoints the dashing Sanjaya Baru as his media adviser. Baru, who is played by Akshaye Khanna, who in turn is trying to play Frank Underwood from House of Cards, is a former business editor. Unlike Manmohan, Baru takes to his new job like Hardik Pandya to West Indies culture – very easily. At its core, the movie is an exploration of the working relationship shared by the two men as they wade their way through red tapism, an authoritarian boss, and endless political mind games.

The movie documents the UPA decade the way the BJP would like to document it in future history textbooks: A demonised Gandhi family, a dumbed-down Rahul, and Modi projected as India’s saviour. If indeed one can call it a movie, considering the whole thing has about as much finesse as a tacky street play put together by kids for the Republic Day celebrations in their building.

Unlike Manmohan, Baru takes to his new job like Hardik Pandya to West Indies culture – very easily.

They say that this movie is an adaptation of the book by the same name, authored by Baru. But the writing is so lazy that I doubt anyone on team even bothered to read the book completely before making the movie – I know because I read it. Baru served at the PMO only between 2004 to 2008. The book (at least most of it) gives an interesting first-person account of what went on in the PMO during that time. Although rightfully critical of Sonia Gandhi, the book also clearly suggests that the people who were actually vouching for Dr Singh’s downfall in this story were Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony, and Arjun Singh. They were unsuccessful mainly because Dr Singh had the backing of Sonia Gandhi during UPA 1. Of course, in the movie version – as with the BJP’s narrative of the Congress – Sonia is responsible for everything.

But here’s the thing that should have been apparent to anyone who has read the book. After a fairly successful first stint as media adviser to the PM during UPA 1, Baru was denied the job during UPA 2 by Sonia and gang – in his own words he “felt betrayed”. Hence, Baru reserves his most scathing criticism of the PM and the Gandhis’ functioning during UPA 2 in the 15-page epilogue of the book, when he wasn’t an insider or present in the PMO. He was like any other journalist – speculating on the goings-on in the government from the outside. In fact, the epilogue seemed like a bad Dear John letter from a spurned lover. Yet, the majority of the second half of this movie is based on just those 15 pages. Baru was so upset by Singh and Sonia that he released the book one month before the general elections in 2014. Should we be surprised that the movie is now out just a few months before the crucial general election of 2019?  

As far as the performances are concerned, there’s nothing left for me to say. Because Anupam Kher has already given himself the Oscar for “Best Actor – Sonia’s Critics Choice” and compared his performance to Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Gandhi. And you know what, I agree with him. Because I don’t know any other actor who can consistently walk like a penguin on stilettoes while indulging in some slow-motion robot dance. Look, I really don’t know if he sounds like Manmohan, but I know for sure he sounds like Sachin Tendulkar; especially after Sachin was told that he’d have to pay the taxes for his Ferrari. If the makers have been so particular about casting people who look the part, then I can’t understand what Akshaye Khanna is doing here. Cinematic liberties and all are ok, but in real life neither is Baru a stud macha, nor does he dress dapper like Khanna. Trust me, I even googled “Sanjaya Baru Hot Pics” to see if I was missing  something.

If anything could have saved this film, it would probably be the background music. If the music director had raised the levels by a few more decibels, it’d have ensured the actors wouldn’t be heard and the movie would have become a tad more watchable. The editing is so bad, the scenes so poorly cut and abrupt, that the final film seems more like a highlights package of the main film.

Cinematic liberties and all are ok, but in real life neither is Baru a stud macha, nor does he dress dapper like Khanna.

We’ve all come across method actors. But Vijay Gutte is probably the first method director in the world. To really understand corruption and scamming, the man himself got arrested in a GST scam for cooking up fake bills and causing a loss of ₹34 crore to the state exchequer while making this movie. But he must have made the government so proud of his commitment to the film that he was let go on bail.

Yet, somewhere in his failure to make a good, authentic film on the 10 years of UPA, Gutte manages to deliver a movie that resembles the UPA era – incoherent, helmed by corrupt people, and that familiar feeling of wondering when the fuck you’ll get done with this bullshit. Despite all its flaws, I’m extremely sure the movie will cross ₹500 crore at the box office – because the Congress has always made money.

All in all, if this is the launch of the BJP 2019 campaign, I am pretty disappointed. I think they are in a bad place because now the onus rests on Vivek Anand Oberoi to save them. And nobody puts that sort of pressure on Vivek. My instinct says that we would all be better off if Modiji himself acted in the biopic… and Vivek Oberoi ran the country.