Why is ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ giving Congress sleepless nights?
Bollywood is changing. The era of larger than life stars and over the top melodrama is giving way to relatable characters in stories of substance. It’s what the audience wants. Many topics that were considered taboo and were spoken of only in hushed tones or through oblique references are now shown in an ‘in your face’ manner. As India matures, so does the content it consumes.
As a result, Bollywood movies have started pushing the envelope in terms of crafting narratives that reflect not only a much broader spectrum of human experiences, but also go a lot deeper in the exploration of those experiences. The raw emotions, the authenticity, the drama, and the intrigue in these stories makes for some compelling viewing.
Bollywood audiences have never had it so good. However, while cinematically the industry has made huge strides, more edgy movies are also attracting more controversy. This is especially true of political dramas that seem to have come alive in the last few years, with movies like Rajneeti, Arakshan, and Satyagraha coming to mind. Aandhi in 1975 was a notable exception for its time. The dirty secrets of India’s ruling classes and the backroom shenanigans that have been hidden so far are getting exposed on celluloid and delighting voyeuristic audiences who finally get to see how the sausage is really made, as Otto von Bismarck once remarked.
The latest movie caught in the eye of the storm is The Accidental Prime Minister, the story of India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His 10-year tenure has been highly controversial for many reasons. He came to power with an impeccable reputation. He played a key role in the economic reforms of 1991, which set the stage for India’s rapid growth over the next three decades. He was educated, qualified, and not political – all of which were huge positives, and made India have great expectations from him. However, by the end of his two terms, his reputation was seriously damaged.
To many, he was seen as a mere figurehead, with the real power residing with Ms Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress party. His critics believe he looked the other way even as the country was overrun by a scourge of sycophancy, corruption, and mismanagement. He was regarded as being indecisive and ineffective. He was in a position of power, but was reluctant to exercise it. People believed he allowed the country to drift and stymied progress. The backlash against this perception resulted in a landslide win for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Elections. To the consternation of the Congress party and its supporters, The Accidental Prime Minister promises to highlight all of these negative aspects of Dr Singh’s tenure.
The movie showcases the inside story about what really happened during those 10 years. It shows Sonia and her successor, Mr Rahul Gandhi, in poor light. While people have heard and read about the various allegations against them, it is a completely different matter to see the intrigue of dirty politics being played out on the big screen. The movie can be extremely damaging to the Congress party, especially when India’s General Elections are just a few months away. Bollywood has the power to influence like nothing else in India, and the Congress party is acutely aware of the detrimental effect of being portrayed as villains.
The Congress party alleges that the movie distorts facts and unfairly vilifies their leadership, especially the Gandhi family, and has protested vigorously. Ironically, some Congress functionaries had the urge to ban the movie in Madhya Pradesh, one of the states where it is in power. Fortunately, better sense prevailed and they are unlikely to obstruct the release.
Congress would be smart to not make a big deal out of the movie. The more they protest, the more limelight the movie will get. From the Congress’ perspective, it’s best to let the movie go on and hope it doesn’t make a very big splash, especially given the fact that biopics are tricky to execute and have enjoyed mixed success.
With that said, it will be interesting to see how the movie will be received at the box office. While it promises to take no prisoners and hold no punches, a lot will depend on how such a serious matter is presented. At the end of the day, the movie needs to engage and entertain a discerning audience, and that’s always a challenge.
Just like the results of India’s 2019 Elections, we will find out the movie’s fate very soon!
The Accidental Prime Minister releases on January 11, 2019.
All Photos: Screenshots
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