PM Narendra Modi movie Review: Vivek Oberoi scrapes through a ghastly biopic
When not fawning over its central figure, Omung Kumar's long-coming biopic rewrites history for the victor
Some films dramatise facts. This one dramatises drama. The first time we meet Vivek Oberoi in PM Narendra Modi, he is acting in a play. "Women are the real strength of this country," he tells the crowd, going clearly off-script and speaking in that briskly compensatory manner men adopt after a massive social media fail. Watching this great performance from the wings is RSS founder Laxmanrao Inamdar (Yatin Karyekar), who is both enthralled by young Naren’s talents and upset that he should waste it on community theatre. “You are such a fine speaker...,” Laxmanrao ventures backstage, unaware of what he is about to set off. “Why aren't you in politics?”
Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Vivek Oberoi, Zarina Wahab, Manoj Joshi
Directed by Omung Kumar, PM Narendra Modi was set to release in April but was stalled till the end of polls. As a result, what was then hailed as a safeguarding of level-playing field has now facilitated a well-timed victory chant, a final rub on the oppositions’ wounds. In many ways, this biopic on the incumbent Indian Prime Minister — who has, in the words of several characters in the film, “worked his magic once again” — aptly echoes the jubilance of his fans: loud, definitive and unrelentingly reverential.
The film opens in 2014 but quickly reels back to Modi’s childhood. As a young nationalist coming up from a humble background, Narendra soon finds himself at a crossroads. Sevak, sadhu or sainik? Unable to choose a career path, he sets forth on a journey to blend all three — by becoming a people’s leader of pious faith with a hard eye on terror. In contrast to the dynamic hero, the opposition is presented as corrupt and irresolute, a heinous pack of Emergency-imposers and minority-appeasers calling the shots from Delhi.
Writer (and co-producer) Sandip Ssingh softens history like fabric. Key events in the Prime Minister’s career — his 1979 flee to Delhi disguised as a Sikh man; the Ram Rath and Ekta Yatras; the Gujarat riots; the Akshardham attack — are approached with almost Tarantino-esque revisionism. (At one point, both Hindus and Muslims get short-changed as ‘rioters' once their purpose is served). Unlike the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Thackeray, which at least had the gall to own up to its politics, this film makes no room for scruples or faults. In fact, so focused are the makers on painting a pretty picture that a reference to ‘Na Khaunga, Na Khane Dunga’ is made in context of adding sugar to tea.
Speaking of tea, the cast merits no charcha. Not one performance sticks, with the exception of Prashant Narayanan’s, who plays his bespectacled villain like a Yakuza boss. Vivek takes his time to work up the Gujarati accent, hard on the ‘z’ and soft on the ‘s’ — as in ‘beeznesh’ — but lacks Modi’s distinctive zing. The only romantic track is introduced by Manoj Joshi, playing the part of the loyal best friend who promptly rings your mother before trouble. There is one impressive shot in PM Narendra Modi — a bird's eye view of moored boats in Varanasi — but overall the film has the visual pedigree of a Gujarat tourism ad (I almost waited for a Bachchan voice-over, then realised the issue with that).
It’s irrelevant now to call PM Narendra Modi a propaganda film. Victory has been served with or without its aid. It can thus be classified as a sort of echo chamber, a cinematic sound board playing back a collective ‘Namo Namo’ to the world. It's a sound we shall ponder long and hard, irrespective of what our eyes tell us. 2019 has been a year of Endgames and Winterfells, and in the scene where Vivek hugs a little child before walking away with tears in his eyes, India gets its own.