Tejas Nair | January 11, 2019
Rating – 6/10
“I hope the future does not see my history through the eyes of the media,” says Dr. Manmohan Singh as he signs off a press conference corresponding to the end of his ten-year-long, two-term tenure as the Prime Minister of India. So starts the ending of the concise retelling of Singh’s time from the eyes of his former advisor, close aide, and journalist Sanjaya Baru in this crisp little, comical biopic that puts the central character in focus while helping its viewers brush up on Indian polity of the 2000s decade.
The talented Anupam Kher restrains himself and his talents from coming out completely as he plays the titular role of Singh who is chosen as the PM of India under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004 by party chairperson Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) after having given a hint by the ‘junta’ at large that a person with Italian roots will not be welcomed with open arms in a sensitive country like India. But that’s a good thing that he restrains himself because there’s hardly any other way to play Singh, a shy, taciturn yet stupendously talented finance person, who is thrown into the ring of politics without much thought or self-assurance. The Accidental Prime Minister goes on to emphasize this a lot of times as it takes a novel approach at narration, thankfully comically, through the eyes of his then media advisor Baru (Akshaye Khanna). Why I enjoyed debutante Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s biographical drama despite it being about politics (not a personal favourite) is because Baru and his co-characters often break the fourth wall in the film. It could be alleged that this idea was borrowed from a popular American web show, but it still made for a fascinating two hours, as I often found myself waiting for Khanna to talk to me.
The occasional digs at certain characters, most essentially Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur), also helps The Accidental Prime Minister stray away from being a serious political drama. It can be best perceived as a commentary on the Indian democracy seen from the eyes of a journalist who promises to be objective. And I believe director Gutte because even though the screenplay (adapted from Baru’s book of the same name as the title of film) by him and his three co-writers does not potentially demand it, he chooses to show real media feeds of most politicians as recorded by history. There are montages that show these actual persons talk politics during Singh’s term and that just elevates the appeal the film has on you regardless of which side you are on (if you follow or are affected by Indian politics).
However, save for Kher and Khanna’s fantastic performance and the apt, melodious score (without a single track) that it carries itself on, the film does go too far as it tries to don the “I’m a cool film” hat and overdoes its fourth wall stunt. The jesting first-person narrative gets tired after a while, which is also when things start to become less interesting. What was going to be a chronological narration of Singh’s life as PM turns into a real drama that you nowadays see in TRP-loving television news channels. The Accidental Prime Minister does not try to paint a rosy picture of the UPA government; it just tries to exonerate Singh for not acting up, as Baru constantly reminds us in the film. I could even go ahead and say that it is more a film on Baru, and that may be true if you measure the total words spoken by either character.
How Singh was a victim of party politics is the highlight of the film and it is up to individual viewer if they want to digest that. The journey, as I have noted, is interesting to see unfold.
There is nothing extraordinary in The Accidental Prime Minister except for how it has been narrated, but I would still recommend it to you because it is at least slightly better than the countless hagiographic biopics we have seen in Bollywood in the past two years alone. This one here is at least honest and occasionally funny.
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