Omung Kumar's PM Modi: Less convincing than an advertisement

Watching Vivek Oberoi play Modi is like watching someone pretend to act

modi-vivek Poster for the PM Modi biopic | IMDB

A boy so poor that he sells tea to be able to contribute a little more to his family, so industrious that he helps his mother wash dishes when he is not at school, so enterprising that he wears a jacket with “sabki chai Modi ki chai” embroidered on its back.

This is Omung Kumar’s representation of PM Narendra Modi. In the unofficial biopic of the man who just became a two-term prime minister, Kumar presents a hero, or rather, a superhero, who is saintly, disrespects no one, and has a solution for everything at his fingertips.

It is chuckle-worthy to see how even the prime minister’s most-recent campaigns are woven around his early childhood. This Modi is a boy who eavesdrops on the conversation of two customers at his chai shop and who says things like: “chai pe charcha matlab sikhsha bina kharcha”.

If Kumar's vision is to be believed, we are meeting a man who was so far-sighted that he had written his campaigns five decades ago. If this were the case, why were crores of rupees spent on hiring the best advertising agencies to plan his campaigns later?

This is not a hagiographic tale, but an exaggerated advertisement campaign, with an actor a little less convincing and a little more contriving than those in the actual political ads. Vivek Oberoi as PM Modi is an amplified version of Modi himself. He is so consumed with portraying Modi as simple, harmless and selfless that it starts to look like pretence.

The first half of the film charts Modi’s early journey — from being a Sanyasi to becoming an RSS worker to rising up the ladders in the Bhartiya Janta Dal. Initially, Oberoi, sways often without finding any foothold. It is only in the second half, at least, that he achieves better control over his body language.

The control on the film, however, is loose: From shoddy camerawork to haphazard editing, scenes switch from one to another without any synchronicity. But even if we leave aside the prettification, there’s very little to admire because the facts have been played with.

The movie credits the success of the Navnirman Andolan of 1974 in Gujarat, which led to the eventual dissolution of the state government, to the wit of Modi. The reality, however, is that it is one of the most successful student protests in modern Indian history, one that was put together by not one but a bunch of young leaders. You wonder whether it is a result of the film team’s laziness to use publicly available archives from the recent past, or a conscious choice to only use those that paint Modi in a positive light and leave out everything else altogether.

Kumar’s Modi concedes in front of (a very caricaturishly portrayed) Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. He does that over and over again, till the time they disappear from the screen, or may be become so insignificant that there’s no need to give them space. Kumar’s Modi is a voice of reason and vulnerability during the Godhra riots. He is a helpless chief minister who has been denied help from the three neighbouring states, and goes on-ground to be with the victims immediately. In reality, the CM only met the victims five days later. But who cares about the details, publicly available or not.

It is only through the course of the film that you realise the conscious choice, of not just whitewashing a person, or of making him a victim of a constantly-scheming opposition, but of building a product that can, in the times to come, disregard both history and the public facts of the very recent past.

The movie's release date was pushed to May 24, a day after the election's vote-counting, following multiple complaints from the opposition and the Election Commission.

Film: PM Modi

Actors: Vivek Oberoi, Zarina Wahab, Boman Irani, Manoj Joshi

Director: Omung Kumar

Rating: 1.5/5