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Interview Hindi

I was distraught when the Election Commission stayed my film's release: Vivek Oberoi

Lead actor Vivek Oberoi speaks about the making of the film and the controversies surrounding it.

Suyog Zore

VIvek Oberoi's PM Narendra Modi had been in the news ever since the project was announced in January, mostly for the wrong reasons. The trailer received a lot of flak from critics as well as filmgoers, and became fodder for memes on social media.

Political parties termed PM Narendra Modi a propaganda film and said its release on the eve of the first phase of polling would be a clear violation of the model code of conduct in place for the election.

The Election Commission agreed and on 10 April stayed the film's release. The producers challenged the ban in the Supreme Court which asked the commission to watch the movie and then submit a report.

In its report, the Election Commission termed the movie "unbashedly uni-dimensional" and reiterated its decision to postpone its release until after the elections.

In a group interaction before the film's release, Vivek Oberoi, who plays Narendra Modi in the film directed by Omung Kumar B, spoke of the making of PM Narendra Modi and the controversies surrounding it. Excerpts:

What was your first reaction when the producer approached you for this role?

I was shocked, to be honest. I politely declined his offer, but Sandeep [Ssingh] seemed very confident about my potential. He approached me 4–5 times thereafter. Every time i would decline. Finally, when he approached me the sixth time I said yes, let's do it. Sandeep was taken back as he had expected me to decline his offer again.

What were the preparations that went into achieving the Modi look?

That was the biggest worry for all of us. Everybody knows how Narendra Modi looks, hence it was imperative to get the look right. So the prosthetic and make-up process began. Initially we thought we would hire make-up and prosthetic artists from Hollywood, but then decided against it. See, this is a biopic on Narendra Modi, and Modi has been advocating for Make in India since he formed the government. If we hired foreign artists on his biopic, that would just defeat the purpose, so we finally hired Indian prosthetic and makeup artists and I think they have done a fantastic job.

How many days did it take to get the look right?

It took us 15 days. Everyday we used to spend 7–8 hours doing the prosthetics and all. Each day something would go wrong. Finally we cracked the look on the 15th day. But I must admit it was a very excruciating process.

Actually this was not even the hardest part. We got the look right, but the question was how to get that chamak [sparkle] in my eyes? If you have met Mr. Modi in person, you will notice that he has very distinct eyes. I tried various methods, all in vain.

Finally we came to the conclusion that I should imbibe Mr Modi's daily routine. Everyday Mr Modi wakes up at 4 am, does pranayam, yoga and meditation. He only eats saatvik bhojan [wholesome vegetarian fare]. I decided to follow the same routine.

Every day, for five months before shooting, I religiously followed this routine and finally got that chamak in my eyes. To my surprise, it brought so many positive changes in my lifestyle that i decided to continue it [the routine] even after completing the film.

I would like to add that very few characters leave a long-lasting impression on an actor. And for me Mr Modi was that character.

When did you meet Mr Modi? Was it to prepare for this role?

No, I have known him since he was the chief minister of Gujarat. He is a very humble person who believes in philanthropy. He came from a very poor family background and after achieving everything he still does not want anything for himself. I personally believe philanthropy can only be done on a full stomach, but that's the difference between ordinary people like us and him. 

When the Election Commission stayed the film's release last month, what was going through your mind?

I was distraught. You have to understand, I was not just an actor but also co-producer of the movie. We incurred heavy losses because of this decision. The money spent on hoardings, standees, theatre bookings, promotions, everything was in vain. And we could not ask the EC to pay us the money we lost because of its decision.

In my opinion we didn't break any guidelines of the model code of conduct. We had scheduled our premiere at the PVR theatre at Juhu a day before the film's release. Suddenly we were told we cannot release our movie as the EC considers this a breach of the model code of conduct. The PVR people sent 1,500 samosas back to us and asked what should we do with them now? (Laughs.)

There was an accusation that the film was shot in haste to be released in time for the general election. What do you want to say?

This is a wrong accusation. I agree, we shot this movie in a very short span of time. It was shot in 38 days. But we achieved this feat because we were well prepared. A tremendous amount of work had gone into the pre-production of this movie, so we were well prepared before shooting began. That's the reason we could finish shooting in 38 days. I reiterate that it was not done in haste to release it during the elections.

What are your future projects?

I have finished shooting for season 2 of the web-series Inside Edge, it will be released soon. I am very excited to see the response of the audience. People loved season 1 and so we had a big responsibility on our shoulder to deliver on their expectations.

There is another big project with [producer] Ekta Kapoor. I can't speak much about it now. I loved working in the South industry, so I have signed another multilingual project in the South.