There are faults in Omung Kumar’s “PM Narendra Modi.” Timing is not one of them. The film debuted in theatres a day after Modi pulled off one of India’s biggest electoral victories, keeping the BJP in power for a second consecutive term. The win is Modi’s to savor, but the film is not. It’s glorification via middling hagiography.
The film is in love with its subject. In the first five minutes, we see young Modi as a dutiful son, a brilliant student and a patriot who respects his country’s flag and is proud of its soldiers. At this point, the house lights haven’t even fully dimmed.
For the next two hours and fifteen minutes, the film builds up its subject as a cross between a Bollywood leading man, a Marvel superhero and a saint. There are bike chase sequences and gratuitous slow-motion shots of Modi sweeping floors, outwitting terrorists, and delivering condescending monologues that compare running a government to making the perfect cup of tea.
There is no mention here of Modi’s alleged complicity in the deadly 2002 Gujarat riots while he was chief minister (he was exonerated in real life). There is no mention of the marriage he walked out on. In the film, the media takes the blame for the riots, and Modi walks out on Jashodaben before the marriage is formally fixed.
The film chooses to centre most modern Indian history around Modi. Indira Gandhi declares a state of emergency minutes after she hears what a success Modi is proving to be in Gujarat. She withdraws the emergency after Modi humiliates her at an international conference.
In one incredulous scene, marauding mobs in a communal riot charge at each other with swords and other weapons. Seconds before they clash, the crowd notices Modi, on a nearby television screen, talking about peace and harmony. Just like that, they drop their weapons and walk away.
Even though a lengthy disclaimer at the beginning warns that the film takes cinematic liberties, this seems to be stretching things too far. It is like the old line from “Annie Hall”: “You know how you’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life.”
Vivekanand Oberoi (previously known as Vivek Oberoi), an accomplished actor, seems highly conscious of his character’s “goodness.” The result is emotive overacting. The rest of the cast, including Prashant Narayan, who plays an evil businessman with a grudge against Modi, and Zarina Wahab, who plays Modi’s mother, ham it up alongside Oberoi.
There is no doubt that Modi’s rise to power is a fascinating tale. There is no doubt that many millions of people like him, maybe even love him. There is an interesting film yet to be made that would examine his rise and what led to it. This is not that film.
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