Sat, Jan 12, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Indian election films get backing from Bollywood


Maharashtra State Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, left, and actor Vivek Oberoi pose with a poster for the upcoming biopic film PM Narendra Modi on Monday in Mumbai, India.

Photo: AFP

Bollywood filmmakers are seeking to cash in on this year’s Indian general election with a host of political movies, some of which smack of propaganda, critics say.

The Hindi film industry has a long tradition of producing politically tinged flicks, but industry watchers say that this year’s offerings are more partisan than ever before.

“What we have this year are quite a few films, some of which are biopics, that appear to be uncritical and unabashedly push the agenda of a particular party, its policies and political philosophies,” reviewer Nandini Ramnath said.

The Accidental Prime Minister and Uri: The Surgical Strike were released yesterday and films about the lives of two prominent politicians air later this month, while a biopic on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also in the works.

The silver screen and politics have often intertwined in India. Many actors have become politicians, while Bollywood has not shied away from tackling political issues.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (“Let it Be, Friends”) became a cult classic in 1983 for its satirical takedown of corruption, while 2010’s Peepli Live was praised for tackling the difficult subject of farmer suicides.

Political movies have also fallen foul of the government. Kissa Kursi Ka (“Story of the Chair”) and Aandhi (“Storm”) were banned by then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in the 1970s.

Supporters of Gandhi’s party, Congress, have tried to stir up controversy around the The Accidental Prime Minister, holding protests and even unsuccessfully going to court to try to block its release.

They claim it portrays senior Congress members in a bad light and is propaganda for Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — allegations the director denies.

The Hindi-language film sees veteran actor Anupam Kher, a vocal supporter of Modi, play the leader’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, also of the Congress party, as premier. It is based on a memoir written by Sanjaya Baru, a former adviser to Singh.

“This film is not about politics, but about the relationship between Dr Singh and Sanjaya Baru through Baru’s eyes. They are both heroes of the film. It’s not propaganda,” director Vijay Gutte said.

Some social media users and film critics have accused Kher of comically mimicking Singh’s slow and measured way of walking and talking, but the actor believes he has captured his mannerisms perfectly.

“It will take you a little time to distinguish between the real and the reel,” Kher tweeted last month. “That is the authenticity and the sincerity one has applied in portraying #DrManmohanSingh.”

Several movies touching on politics were released during India’s last election year in 2014, notably Youngistan and Bhoothnath Returns, in which superstar Amitabh Bachchan played a ghost running against an evil candidate.

Filmmakers say it makes good business sense to release movies with a political backdrop in the run-up to an election, while others might be secretly hoping that they translate into votes.

The nationalistic, all-guns-blazing Uri: The Surgical Strike, which celebrates the Indian army’s strikes on militants in 2016 in response to a raid that had killed 19 Indian soldiers, is likely to be popular.

Modi was widely lauded for the operation and the film sees Vicky Kaushal play an army major in charge of avenging the attack — which India blamed on Pakistan.

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