The Accidental Prime Minister, the directorial debut of 33-year-old Vijay Gutte, is almost like a kid writing a love letter to the present prime minister about the complaints he had with the former prime minister. Like a kid’s letter, it lacks nuance and tact, and is often silly. At least, you enjoy the naivety and innocence in such a letter. With the film, especially when you know is intended to influence the audience, you cringe when comedic tropes (that fall flat as well) are introduced to pull down the image of a person.
If nothing else, the film mostly looks like a fancy dress competition for grown-ups based around the theme, politics. All actors, if I may call them so, are trying to be a version of the real politician. It begins right at the beginning when Suzanne Bernert as Sonia Gandhi tries hard to speak with an accent, twitches her lips with her glasses placed funnily on her nose and a wig that is too arranged for it to look real. Arjun Mathur and Aahana Kumra try their best to impersonate Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra, but lack precision to be convincing enough. If Kumra’s pauses are too long, Mathur fails right on the look front with no dimples.
In the run up to the release of the film, Anupam Kher, who plays Manmohan Singh, mentioned across interviews that he wanted to do complete justice to the role. Singh, one of the best economists of the country, the former Reserve Bank of India governor and the former head of the Planning Commission, who went on to become the prime minister for two terms, in Kher’s portrayal comes across as too timid, with a lack of understanding. Kher hasn’t got anything right – neither the backstory of the character, nor the physicality and traits. He does not just not look the part, but also keep reminding you that he is Kher in the garb. And that isn’t a good sign.
The earnestness to build a case against the Gandhi “family” (the word is repeated many times over the course 110 minutes) is so dramatic that the attention from everything else just seems to have diverted. So, there is no detailing in the set design, the inner workings of the PMO looks like a farce, while the background music is blaring.
In 2014, journalist and media advisor to Singh from 2004 to 2008, Sanjaya Baru wrote a memoir, 'The Accidental Prime Minister', on which the film is based. Like the book, the sole purpose of which was to expose the shortcomings of the United Progressive Alliance between 2004 and 2014, the movie follows the same path. Exactly the way the book released before the general election kicked off in 2014, the movie releases before the general election of 2019.
The interesting coincidence is that if Baru seems to be having fun in the tell-all book, Akshaye Khanna, who plays Baru, too, seems to be enjoying the role as much. He smirks and smiles every time he turns to talk to the audience, almost like Kevin Spacey from House of Cards. Just that he is one-note and lacks the haughtiness that is required to pull off a character that is supposed to make the audience a part of the film. As a viewer, I always felt distanced. Khanna failed to create the intrigue that he should have, leaving you distanced and just an audience.
Another actor, who seems to have had a lot of fun, being menacing and outright evil is Vipin Sharma playing Ahmed Patel, one of the key advisors of the Gandhi family. Even if you flinch at his dialogues, he makes sure to send across the message that Singh is only on the coveted chair to finally pave way for Rahul Gandhi. Sharma wins the part.
Perhaps, one reason for that is the references for Patel in public memory are lesser, and also that the film doesn’t show too many real-footage of him. Contrasting and lacing the film with the real footage, at least in this case, only makes the film weaker. It reflects the shortcomings of the director to have failed in creating a strong narrative on his own, and succumbing to rely on the footage. If that’s not all, what seems like a ploy to introduce humour, a scene from Rahul Gandhi’s infamous interview with Arnab Goswami, is recreated. In the years that have passed since the interview was done, the story has taken a turn. Goswami is no longer the news anchor he used to be, and the Gandhi scion isn’t the same person either. If this scene and many other scenes in the movie do anything, it is reflecting the datedness of the story that was first told in 2014 to propagate certain ideas. There’s nothing new that the audience doesn’t know, making it an exercise in futility.
Film: The Accidental Prime Minister
Director: Vijay Gutte
Starring: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna