Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian
Recently a trailer of the official biopic on PM Narendra Modi was released on T-Series, the number one YouTube handle in the world, to pull maximum views. The biopic ‘PM Narendra Modi’ is based on the life of Modi and is slated to release around the Lok Sabha elections. The film is directed by ‘biopic expert’ Omung Kumar who has made ‘Sarabjit’ and ‘Mary Kom’ earlier and produced by journalist-turned-producer Sandip Ssingh. But the first phase of polls will commence from 11th April so the producer changed the date.
The film will release in 3 languages before general elections to gain maximum advantage. For a change of the date Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement, “People have great expectations and curiosity, so we do not want them to wait for long. This is the story of 1.3 billion people and I do not want people to wait to see it.” The protagonist Vivek Oberoi, whose father Suresh Oberoi is a BJP member and is also one of the producers, has taken up nine different looks with the help of prosthetics makeup to narrate the life of Modi. Although, Vivek Oberoi does a poor take of Modi in the trailer. He tries to get Modi’s mannerisms, but try is all he does.
The Saffron Blessing
Along with Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi will be seen in the role of Amit Shah. As per sources, Sandeep Ssingh started working on this ambitious project after demonetisation in 2016. Earlier Paresh Rawal wanted to portray Modi, in fact, he had commented in the media that nobody could play the role of Narendra Modi better than him. But things did not turn out well and he was replaced by Vivek Oberoi. Then production started in early January again, and the movie raced towards completion because it has to release before polls. As per Mid-Day, a former Election Commissioner noted that the film’s release indirectly violates the model code of conduct since it has the blessings of BJP leaders. Though BJP is not directly involved with the production, it was launched in Mumbai by BJP leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He even tweeted, “film is set to create history.” But then, Sandeep Ssingh defended the film, saying that BJP had nothing to do with film ‘PM Narendra Modi’. “Since we are making a film on the sitting PM, we are requesting people who admire him to come as chief guests,” Ssingh said.
Along with a biopic, a web series on PM Narendra Modi will also be available in April to watch just before elections. Umesh Shukla, the director of movies ‘Oh My God’ and ‘102 Not Out’ made a ten-part series titled Modi on Narendra Modi. The series will cover Modi’s life from childhood to his teenage and youth to becoming PM. Umesh Shukla has produced this along with Ashish Wagh. Actors Faisal Khan, Ashish Sharma and Mahesh Thakur play different stages of Modi’s life. The web series will stream on Eros Now from April 11 to May 19, which is also the duration of the seven phases of polling for the Lok Sabha election.
More The Merrier
Last year, 32 minute short film ‘Chalo Jeete Hai’, directed by Mangesh Hadawale and presented by Aanand L Rai and Mahaveer Jain, was released. Produced by Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, the film is based on the early life of Modi and shows how he is inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the empathy he exhibits towards the poor while growing up in Vadnagar in Gujarat. The short film has its world premiere on Star Network and its OTT platform Hotstar. And later it was screened at the Rajya Sabha and hailed by a group of ministers including Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
These are not only films that are promoting and hailing Modi. ‘Mere Pyare Prime Minister’ is another flick that promotes the cleanliness drive of Modi government. Released on 15th March, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, the film tells a story of a mother and son who live in Mumbai slum. Amidst many hardships of life, the film focuses on the problem of open defecation and sanitation problems. It is a social-drama featuring Anjali Patil and Makrand Deshpande. But before its release, the film faced a dispute with a budding writer Manoj Marita related to the credit of film writing. Director Rakesh Mehra is accused of taking the story and script from the new writer Manoj Marita and adding his name to it. The matter was taken to the court later. The controversy caused a delay in releasing the film also. The film flopped badly at the box office. Before its release, trade analysts speculated around Rs 1 crore of the collection in the first weekend but the film collected just 18 lakhs only. The total collection reached just Rs 30 lakhs.
On social media platforms many other films, full length and short, based on PM Modi released. ‘Har Har Modi’ made by Pahlaj Nihalani and ‘Narendra Modi - The Ocean of Dreams’ are some of the films. Other than Hindi, there are a couple of films available in Gujarati too that tell the story of PM Modi. ‘Namo Saune Gamo’ released in 2014 is one such film. Interestingly PM Modi released the poster of the film.
Election fever is growing fast in the country and films are also playing vital role in propaganda and promoting the ideologies of different political parties. In the age of propaganda, not only in Bollywood but in Southern film industry also, political parties want to take advantage of cinema and want to revive the sentiments of the electorate through political biopics. At the same time, parties want to transfuse their ideology through the films in today’s youth. Hence, viewers will watch more than a dozen political biopics being released or announced in the 2019 pre-poll season which seems like an unconventional trend.
Telugu Tryst With Biopics
In Andhra Pradesh, before polls, biopic fever is on edge. The trailer of controversial Telugu film ‘Lakshmi’s NTR’ has gone viral with a catchy hashtag #NTRtrueSTORY and has been watched more than 46 lakh times in just 24 hours. Within a week more than 79 lakh views were already there on YouTube for the trailer. One can judge the curiosity of the audience about the film that within an hour of being released online on 13th February, it was seen more than five and a half million times. Director Ram Gopal Varma is directing this controversial biopic based on the life of late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) who was an actor before entering politics. Actor P Vijay Kumar is portraying the role of NTR. The film ran into controversy when an MLA SV Mohan Reddy reportedly filed a complaint against Ram Gopal Varma for the song in the film for defaming AP CM Chandrababu Naidu. On the other hand, Ram Gopal Varma wants to trigger sensation before its release, so he has publicly promised to reveal the untold truth about the late actor-turned-politician. As per the sources, the film is based on some factual events related to NTR’s last days. Reacting to this, the leaders of Telugu Desam Party have accused Ram Gopal Varma and his movie’s producer Rakesh Reddy of maligning and misrepresenting Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu who is son-in-law of NTR.
Well, adding to this, film buffs would experience the other truth of the life of NTR by his another biopic, which is somehow official one too. Sixth son of NTR, N Balakrishna (NBK), who is also MLA from Hindupur assembly, made his father’s biopic in two parts. While actor Balakrishna himself essays the role of his father NTR, Vidya Balan plays the role of NTR’s wife Basavatarakam and popular Telugu star Rana Daggubati has been roped in to portray N Chandrababu Naidu in the film. The first part of two-part biopic ‘NTR Kathanayakudu’ that focusses mainly on NTR’s acting career released worldwide in January. And the second part titled ‘NTR Mahanayakudu’ released on 22nd February that narrates NTR’s political journey. Director Krish Jagarlamudi tried to recreate the campaign part very well and Balakrishna portrayed older NTR with ease and finesse. There are references how NTR understood the need to connect with people and did not rely merely on his charm from cinema to turn the tables at the elections. Before release, the viewers expressed enormous expectations but both films received mixed responses. A section of people pointed out that the film glorified NT Rama Rao and failed to showcase his flaws. They called it a propaganda film for portraying Chandrababu Naidu in a favourable light.
Another important political biopic which has generated a buzz in Andhra Pradesh was ‘Yatra’ based on the padyatra of political leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy. ‘Yatra’ may not be called as proper biopic because it is more event-based covering padyatra in larger part. Worldwide the movie has been released in 970 theatres. Noted Malayalam actor Mammootty played YSR in this movie. Mahi V Raghav has scripted and directed this movie.
In ‘Yatra’ the story is recreated in such a manner to conjure up the vague memories of YSR in people’s mind. It was notable that YSR had managed to come to power after a long haul through walkathon that led him to become the chief minister in 2004. ‘Yatra’ was blatant political propaganda and in fact, it did not conceal its purpose. The introductory and closing scenes are generously laced with photographs and video footage of YSR. The film may provide notable support to his son and politician YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in gaining support from voters during elections. Jagan is banking on the popularity of his father.
Telangana people missed the chance to watch a biopic on KCR. Last year a biographical picture titled ‘Udyama Simham’ based on Telangana chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) was also slated to release. Directed by Alluri Krishnam Raju, the KCR’s biopic was to release before the assembly elections held. But for some unknown and undisclosed reasons, the film was not released.
Amma Magic On The Screen
In Tamil Nadu, at least four political dramas on the late AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa are in pipeline. One is in the form of web series. Filmmaker Gautham Menon is working on it. While in Tamil cinema, audience will get an opportunity to see the movie ‘Thalaivi’, a biopic on the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa. On her 71st birth anniversary on 24th February, the first look of the film was revealed. The film will go on the floor in April. Filmmaker-director AL Vijay who will direct this biopic says that it took him more than 20 drafts to lock the final version of the script. ‘Baahubali’ series writer K Vijayendra Prasad, who is also writing the script of the film based on RSS, has been brought on board to pen the script.
However, this is not the only biopic. Two more Jayalalithaa’s biographical films are in the offing. One titled as ‘The Iron Lady’ will debut A Priyadarshini as director. Actress Nithya Menen will play the role of Jayalalithaa in this film. The film will be released in Hindi also along with Tamil and Telugu versions to garner national buzz. The producers want to release the movie next year. Another biographical movie ‘Thaai: Puratchi Thalaivi’ on Jayalalitha has been planned by producer Adithya Bhardwaj. On all these biopics, director Vijay commented ‘Thalaivi’ will be the official biopic of Jayalalithaa. He revealed that they have also taken permission from Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak.
RaGa’s Raag Too
Interestingly, If BJP is manipulating cinema for its propaganda and to influence electoral choices, so too does Congress. A biopic on Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on cards as well. The title of the movie will be ‘My Name is RaGa’. As per sources, this movie has no intentions to glorify Rahul or demystify him. “It’s the story of coming back of a human being who had been ridiculously attacked, anyone who has fearlessly confronted defeat and failure can relate to this story. In that sense, I don’t want to call this a biopic, it’s a narrative of any man who becomes unstoppable after he wins over a catastrophic life,” director Rupesh Paul said in a statement. But its trailer does not put an impressive mark on viewers.
Ye Public Hai, Ye Sab Jaanti Hai
In January, two unusual propaganda films – ‘Thackeray’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ released. ‘Thackeray’, a biopic on Shiv Sena supremo Bala Saheb Thackeray, had actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui portraying the role of Bal Thackeray. It is a completely political promotional movie produced by Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament and directed by Abhijit Panse, a former Sena member who’s now with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. ‘Thackeray’ made with around Rs 30 crore budget was a disaster on box office. It only did well in Mumbai territory. The overall collection was around Rs 19 crores only. The same fate befell the film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book on former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s years in power, directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte. His father Ratnakar Gutte, a prominent sugar baron of Parbhani, had contested the 2014 Assembly elections as a BJP-alliance candidate but lost to the Nationalist Congress Party. It was termed as a propaganda film because ruling BJP promoted the trailer through their official Twitter account. At the domestic box office, the film collected only Rs 21 crores.
Like ‘Indu Sarkar’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, another movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ is in the pipeline that will create controversy. The first-look poster of suspense thriller was unveiled before Holi announcing that the film will hit theatres on 12th April. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose last film ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ was based on the Naxal-intelligentsia nexus, ‘The Tashkent Files’ is based on the mysterious death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent (formerly a part of USSR, now in Uzbekistan) in 1966. The film concentrates on the Tashkent conspiracy, whilst also highlighting how Shastri, regarded by many as India’s first economic reformer who introduced several steps which led to many reforms like the White Revolution, was “seen as a hurdle to some forces”.
‘An Insignificant Man’, a documentary on Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal, had a nationwide theatrical release in November 2018. Directed by Khushboo Ranka, the film did not catch any buzz in India though it received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has gone to major festivals across the world including the BFI London Film Festival & Busan International Film Festival.
On the other hand, satire and sarcasm are also seen in cinematic creativity like director Anik Dutta’s film ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ and ‘Halahal’. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ has been ‘unofficially’ banned after its theatrical release. The film was withdrawn from almost all multiplexes and single-screen halls in the state within 10 days of its release. Then its producers had to seek judicial help to exhibit their film. They went to court alleging that the Mamata Banerjee-led state government had ordered an unofficial ban on the film. The court passed the interim order based on a plea by the producers of the film. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ irked the state government because it criticises political parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, BJP and CPI(M). Another recent controversial blockbuster was actor Vijay’s political action film ‘Sarkar’ that ran into trouble with the state’s ruling party AIADMK over its depiction of the late politician Jayalalithaa and her welfare schemes. Movie’s posters were vandalized, theatres witnessed violent protests, and the producer of the film, Sun Pictures, was forced to delete certain controversial scenes that depicted freebies given by a political party being thrown into the fire. One thing from this act also became clear that political parties cannot tolerate any satire on them.
In the backdrop of Vyapam Scam, a film ‘Halahal’ is made that will reveal the scam of college admissions and government recruitments involving several politicians, businessmen and civil servants in Madhya Pradesh. Produced by Zeishan Quadri, who was scriptwriter of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, and directed by Randeep Jha, the film is more fictional though inspired by true events. “It is more or less a fictional story because we have fictionalised a lot but the backdrop is real,” Zeishan Quadri said. The movie is mainly shot in Amroha in Uttar Pradesh. The makers have planned to release the film on digital streaming platform instead of theatrical release.
However, the box office report of these movies points out that people are not really keen to watch these political biopics. Whereas, on the other hand, political biopics and saffron have become the new season of Bollywood, so masses will watch more biopics in coming days. As per sources, the latest to join the bandwagon are movies on RSS and Nitin Gadkari. Movies definitely help political leaders make headlines and these days films are becoming neo agitprops to spread the message before the polls.