If at all The Accidental Prime Minister achieves anything, it is a new level of social or political, maturity, that allowed a film based on, and critical of, real characters, to be released. The Gandhi family and Congress loyalists, quite rightly, decided to ignore the childishly scurrilous film, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same title, and directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte.
It is a clumsy attempt to take potshots at the Gandhi family and the Congress Party, by making former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh appear like a ridiculous puppet. What could possibly be the reason, otherwise, for Anupam Kher to play Dr Singh as a whiny-voiced man, who shuffles around with his hands stiffly held in front of his bent body? The story, seen from the point of view of journalist Sanjaya Baru (played by Akshaye Khanna), who became Dr Singh’s media adviser, is about the shark tank that politics is, and how he has to keep steering a weak PM to safe waters.
The film shows how Dr Singh was seated on the PM’s chair as the least offensive candidate in the alliance of parties that made up the UPA, since there was stiff opposition to foreign-born Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) becoming PM of India, and Rahul was still too raw.
Baru, with smirk always in place, often talks directly to the camera, to explain what is going on, among the nasty bunch of bureaucrats and politicians circling the PMO (the set of the office is so garish, it hurts the eyes). The chief nasty is Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma), who is a close confidant of Sonia Gandhi and believes he pulls the strings of the government.
A lot happened during Dr Singh’s 10-year tenure, but everything is perfunctorily dealt with, except for the inordinate time given to the nuclear deal with the US, Rahul Gandhi’s tantrums and some media shenanigans orchestrated by Baru. Dr Singh is shown to be resisting pressure by ‘The Family’ in his own way, and ultimately retreating into silence (that became a subject for endless lampooning) when made a scapegoat in all the scams and scandals erupting around the UPA that eventually led to the BJP winning the elections.
The film could have been a trenchant look at the murky world of Indian politics with a clean man at the centre, but it ends up as boring, confused and borderline absurd. Audiences can amuse themselves by checking which actor resembles the real-life character he or she plays; strangely, Akshaye Khanna, dressed in a natty new suit for every scene, looks nothing like Sanjaya Baru.
One can only hope that The Accidental Prime Minister, makes way for better and more honest films about Indian leaders, without anyone getting insulted and threatening violence. It’s about time the audience decided for itself what film it can or cannot see and sift the truth from propaganda.