The trailer of the film The Accidental Prime Minister, which is slated for all-India release on January 11, has stirred up a heated debate in India during the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The ruling BJP seemed to endorse the film by sharing the trailer on its official Twitter handle with the caption: “A riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM’s chair till the time the heir was ready?”
After initial sound and fury—ranging from demand for a ban to threats to disrupt its screening—the Congress seems to have toned down its reaction. The Congress-run state governments will not ban the film. The party activists have been asked not to disrupt its screening but expose it as false propaganda.
The film is a biopic based on a book with the same title by Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2008. It gives an insider’s account of how the former prime minister was little more than a puppet in the hands of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who enjoyed real clout over the Prime Minister’s Office.
With some exceptions like Kissa Kursi Ka and Aandhi, the inner dynamics of India’s first political family has long been avoided in India’s popular culture till 2014 when BJP’s stunning rise changed the situation. It created space for films such as Indu Sarkar that dealt with the subject of Emergency—to be attempted. As an essential part of popular culture, films have an impact on society’s collective psyche. In a vibrant democracy, no subject can be kept aside as a taboo. The fact that a film is based on the written account of an insider, whose job made it possible to track the inner workings of the dynasty and evaluate its functions, gives it a ring of authenticity even though it causes some discomfort to the Congress.
However, a critical test for a film that deals with a politically sensitive subject is that it must adhere to professional standards. It should be able to hold on its own as “a creative work of art” in terms of direction, cinematography, script, editing, acting and production. Short of that, the film runs the risk of being dismissed as propaganda.
The political slanging has given enough heat and dust for the trailer of The Accidental Prime Minster to grab public attention. If the film goes on to become a success, it could be a testament to the immaturity of India’s political class, which resorts to violent governmental censorship and empowers fringe groups against films that are even remotely political. The final word on a biopic rests with the people.