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PM Narendra Modi review: More regular masala movie than serious biopic

Release Date: 24 May 2019 / Rated: U / 02hr 11min

Read in: Hindi | Marathi

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Keyur Seta

From being inspired by Dev Anand's Guide (1965) to dodging bullets while holding the Tricolour aloft, India's prime minister is depicted here as a classic Hindi potboiler hero.

Director Omung Kumar B’s PM Narendra Modi has been promoted heavily as a biopic of India's prime minister. But the film opens with a disclaimer stating that the makers have taken 'creative liberties', which is pretty much the case with most biopics in India.

The disclaimer adds that the film does not claim to be historically accurate and that fictional elements have been added. And this line keeps popping in your head as you watch the film because, in the guise of presenting a biopic of the prime minister, Omung Kumar has simply set out to make a regular masala entertainer. The prime minister just happens to be the leading man. And guess what? The film is not even entertaining.

As a child, 'Naru', as Modi was supposedly called fondly, showed great passion in selling tea whenever he had time to spare from studies. He names his tea ‘Modi ki chai’ with the amazing clairvoyance that he would be using tea to promote himself during his prime ministerial campaign decades later in 2014.

From an early age, Naru has great respect for India’s army. During the India-China war of 1962, he decides to provide tea free to soldiers when they are leaving for the front.

We know that Modi had become a sanyasi (monk) for a while in his youth. He has said so himself. The film shows this, but it claims that it was Dev Anand’s act in the classic Guide (1965) that pushed him to give up the worldly life.

In the film, Modi (Vivek Oberoi) becomes a wandering monk without marrying Jashodaben. The prime minister, of course, had admitted his marriage with her in his election affidavit filed in 2014. Interestingly, the makers had earlier announced that Barkha Bisht Sengupta would be playing Jashodaben, but PM Narendra Modi just shows her as a prospective bride. Even in a fictional tale, Jashodaben is left high and dry.

After realizing his path, Oberoi’s character joins the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He organizes his first protest rally against the government of Gujarat by distributing pamphlets urging people to join him if they want their bank balances to be increased automatically. Now, this was how Bipasha Basu’s character cheated people in Phir Hera Pheri (2006). The only difference here is that the people don't mind.

The Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 1991-92 was led by then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi. But in the film Narendra Modi leads, Tricolour in hand, while bullets keep whizzing all around.

When the Gujarat riots break out in 2002, Narendra Modi, feeling 'helpless' as chief minister of the state, is seen providing a healing touch to the victims.

Modi’s infamous interview with television journalist Karan Thapar, in which he walked out when he was asked uncomfortable questions about the handling of the riots, is presented here, but with a twist. Oberoi's Modi goes one better than the original, outsmarting the journalist and making him a laughing stock.

Of course, no one would be surprised to see Congress leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi turned into evil caricatures. But the mockery of former prime minister Manmohan Singh goes beyond what Anupam Kher did to him in The Accidental Prime Minister (2018). A good performer like Prashant Narayan is reduced to playing a forgettable cunning pro-Congress businessman.

Though Vivek Oberoi has not made good film and career choices over the years, there is no doubt that he is a good actor. And he is not bad here either, though it is hard to see Narendra Modi in him. Manoj Joshi tries hard to play BJP president and Modi's lieutenant Amit Shah, whose name, strangely, is muted in the film.

PM Narendra Modi lacks any kind of flow as the events mentioned before are presented hurriedly in a haphazard manner. The focus, it seems, was only to portray the protagonist as a saint. As the Election Commission stated in its own review of the film last month, PM Narendra Modi is more hagiography than biography.


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