One of the most significant takeaways from Main Atal hoon is the lingering memory of Pankaj Tripathi as Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A few days before the film's release, Tripathi had said that his aim as an actor was not to look Atal, but rather, more importantly, to feel Atal. In a little over two hours of runtime, he enthrals us by stepping skilfully and seamlessly into the shoes of the late prime minister, poet and statesman, that for those from Gen Z who may never have seen the late PM will know exactly what the man looked, walked and talked like.
Main Atal Hoon is a tribute to Vajpayee - right from his early years as a budding poet to an assertive young leader at Victoria College in Gwalior where he contested the general secretary elections to studying law at Kanpur and going on to join the RSS for a life of selfless service to the nation, the film beautifully captures each milestone in the journey of the late prime minister that played a critical role in the making of the man and in-turn shaping of the nation's destiny. This is not an impersonal, frame-by-frame account of the PM's life, rather it's a thoughtfully written script and an aesthetically crafted screenplay that takes the audience along on the protagonist's journey which in turn makes the film an endearing watch.
Yet, from the second half onwards to be specific, the tribute soon turns into idol worship. It becomes nauseating to see the portrayal of the late PM as a man incapable of doing any wrong, and the only such messiah who graced the Earth to free the oppressed masses of India from the Congress, which, by the way, has been shown in very poor light and unsurprisingly, so. The film is a handbook of how the Hindu right carved a space for itself to enter the echelons of power and how under Vajpayee's leadership it was able to keep the flame burning despite falling face down again and again.
This is a deep dive into the life and times of Vajpayee, the leader whose politics and poetry we've known, but we now got to know more about — there's a nuanced mention of Mrs Ekta Kaul, his love interest from college who later became known to almost everyone at seven race courses; his yearning for a family of his own, his self-assured bearing and moments that rendered him most vulnerable.
Main Atal Hoon, should be watched for its highly engrossing storytelling and execution, more than the politics it espouses. And if you're prepared to watch the film for what it is a film, then you might even want to watch it a second time. But then be prepared to also consume the depiction of a highly idolised version of the late PM, along with a biased portrayal of the politics of the era, reckless and frequent Congress-bashing and so on.
Either way, you will come out emotionally charged - given Tripathi's charismatic presence, his exceptional command over the Hindi language, and his soulful renditions and recitations of Vajpayee's poetry all of which linger in the mind long after you've watched the film. In a short period, the screenplay beautifully captures the journey from the times of the early Jan Sangh to the formation of the short-lived Janata Party and the eventual birth of the BJP, without coming across as a history textbook and for that one must recognise the able direction at the hands of Ravi Jadhav. Main Atal Hoon must be watched if you want to be regaled by Tripathi and by the moving story of a coy tongue-tied young boy who went on to become India's tenth prime minister.
Movie: Main Atal Hoon
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Piyush Mishra, Raja Sevak, Ekta Kaul, Daya Shankar Pandey,
Director: Ravi Jadhav