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The Accidental Prime Minister: A Curtain Raiser

As I write this article, “The Accidental Prime Minister” the film based on Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same name has recorded an unprecedented 35 Million views on YouTube in a few days. Anupam Kher who portrays the former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the film is already rallying around the country talking about it. Beyond the hullaballoo of being a popular film, TAPM is a landmark event in Indian cinema history. It’s the sheer timing and content of this film which may have a bearing on the selection of the government in the next general elections in May 2019 and may ultimately affect the fate of India, the world’s largest democracy. To add to the controversy, the ruling BJP government has tweeted about the trailer and marketed it. This has never happened in Indian politics.

“The Accidental Prime Minister” is a film Directed by Vijay Gutte starring Anupam Kher as Dr Manmohan Singh, Akshaye Khanna as Sanjaya Baru, Susan Bernadete as Sonia Gandhi and Arjun Mathur as Rahul Gandhi. This post is aimed at reviewing the timing, content and politics of this film as well as shed light on the bigger picture associated with this film.

The Accidental Prime Minister – The Idea, the book and the film

TAPM is a book authored by Sanjaya Baru and published by Juggernaut Publishers. Baru was a high ranking official in the UPA Govt and was the Chief Media Adviser to Dr Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2008. In this book, Baru talks about the weaknesses of the Prime Minister Singh and how he was subservient to the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Baru paints Singh as a persona non grata occupying the most powerful chair in the country. The book offers exclusive peek into the workings of the Prime Minister’s office. It also picks major political issues in that time such as The Civil Nuclear Deal, The Kashmir Issue, The Reforms, Corruption Scandals and more. But largely, Baru acts like a narrator on how he viewed the relationship between Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Baru told “Headlines Today” in an interview in 2014 that “Singh was the weakest full term Prime Minister India has ever seen”.

The book came out in April 2014 just a few weeks before the general elections when BJP and NDA demolished the Congress party

Now in December 2019, a group of unexpected people have completed the making of the film on this book. The leading actor Anupam Kher who portrays Dr Manmohan Singh is an unabashed supporter of the current Prime Minister Modi and his wife being a Member Of Parliament on a BJP ticket, the rest of the cast except Akshaye Khanna who plays Baru are largely unknown to the movie going audience. The Director Vijay Gutte (not a virtuoso, award winning filmmaker) is the son of an influential Maharashtra businessman who has been embroiled into multiple tax evasion cases. This is Gutte’s first film ever! The only other person who is a known industry name is producer/ distributor Jayanti Lal Gada of Pen Movies.The other point to note is that Congress has risen back to power in 3 states a few weeks back and are posing a serious threat to BJP and PM Modi. Under the light of these realities, one cant ignore the fact the timing of a film like this which takes serious potshots at the Gandhi family. BJP has shared the trailer from its official twitter handle. There is definitely more than what meets the eye than this just being “ a film based on a best selling book”. From the looks of the trailer, its quite evident that Kher has done a super job in impersonating Dr Singh. He has aced, the signature walk, the voice modulation and looks which are almost as identical as the former PM. The trailer clearly shows the focus on Sonia Gandhi’s cold shouldering of Singh. The trailer doesn’t talk much about Dr Singh’s accomplishments as a reformer as such. It will be interesting to see how the film finally creates Dr Singh’s aura.

Why a film on Dr Manmohan Singh’s ‘later’ life?

Dr Manmohan Singh will always be remembered for ushering in the economic liberalization of India’s economy. Nobody can take that away. He along with the then Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao orchestrated a reform which transformed India from a $250 Billion economy into a $3 Trillion economy in less than four decades. In his prime ministerial accomplishments ie. the GST blueprint, The Civil Nuclear Deal, RTI, The NREGA etc have been critical for India. But there is also the fact that the 2G,CWG scams were also unraveled under his stewardship. The Nirbhaya gangrape too also maligned his image.

The interesting thing however is that Singh despite these challenges himself remained insulated from corruption and crime. He is possibly India’s most educated Prime Minister with Degrees and Phd from Cambridge University. His books and research work continue to be referred text in Economics in leading universities. However, the irony is that he could never become a 100% empowered state head with alleged interventions from Sonia Gandhi at regular intervals.

Questions on “The Accidental Prime Minister” and its treatment

Baru’s book talks on the basis of his job as Chief Media Advisor to Singh between 2004 to 2008 which is largely UPA-1 (2004-2009) regime. The UPA-1 term was relatively better with record growth rates in India’s GDP. Baru talks at length about problems in UPA-2 (2009-2014) term more than UPA-1 term. This is also because most corruption issues came up in UPA-2. The film makes a disclaimer that it uses all real people and events but also uses fiction in a ‘small’ way. Now it remains to be seen whether Director Gutte has copied 100% of the book in the film or not…

Anupam Kher who seems to have given a good performance is shouting from the top his roof that the film is a landmark in cinema history. But given Kher’s track record of backtracking from various stands he took in the past, it is safe to say that he is just promoting his work. Also, BJP is now officially promoting the film hoping that the citizenry will see the ‘real’ side of the Gandhi family and the Congress high command which might fetch them some extra votes.

A Biopic?

The funny thing here is that neither Baru, neither Kher and team have taken any written consent from Dr Singh while portraying his life and himself. If one looks at any cinema production of any repute, biopics usually have permissions and understanding from the subject of the movie well in advance. So at best, TAPM can be a semi or full depiction on the accounts of a former bureaucrat who worked with Singh. Dr Singh also has not talked about this matter as well. This to my mind is quite an unresolved issue for anyone who seeks to learn about reality from watching this film.

Box Office predictions

It looks like the timing of this film is the reason for making this film. With BJP going all out to decimate Congress’s resurgence post the victory in MP,Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, there is a very strong chance that the movie will go past Rs 50 crores in revenue. It may touch Rs 75 crore plus as well. The fact that Dr Singh is a household name and the trailer has received over 37 Million views on YouTube, we might look at a megahit irrespective of its content. The trailer clearly states “Watch in this election season”.

I highly recommend all of you to go and watch this movie with an open mind.

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