At one point in Vijay Gutte’s “The Accidental Prime Minister”, the usually reticent and socially awkward Manmohan Singh tells his outgoing media adviser Sanjaya Baru “ek jhappi toh paa le” (give me a hug) and stands up to give him a rather effusive embrace. It’s difficult to imagine Singh saying those words, but then so much about this film seems staged that you wouldn’t know the real from the reel.
Meant to be a tell-all memoir of Singh’s stormy ten-year term as India’s premier, “The Accidental Prime Minister” is instead a shoddy and bumpy movie adaptation that seems more interested in amplifying the gossip surrounding Singh’s relationship with the Gandhi family than giving us an insight into his premiership.
First-time filmmaker Gutte and co-writers Mayank Tewari, Karl Dunne and Aditya Sinha present audiences with an uneven story that jumps from one incident to another, with hardly a pause for context or explanations. The audience is expected to be up-to-date on political events that occurred more than a decade earlier, and the film itself treats Singh as an object on display.
We see Singh as he is pressured by the Gandhi family and the Congress party on issues such as the U.S.-India nuclear deal and the Kashmir conflict, but it is all from the outside. Baru (Akshaye Khanna) is supposed to be the narrator of the film (and the author of the book on which it is based), but the actor playing him only spouts cliches and platitudes.
“The entire country is your fan,” he tells Singh, but we never really get to see proof of this. Instead, Gutte reduces all his characters to stereotypes - Ahmed Patel is a smirking, calculating politician, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi speak to each other in Italian, while Baru gets all the best lines and a cockiness that is the exact opposite of Singh’s awkward demeanour.
The only credit Gutte and his team should get is that they name every character in the movie instead of hiding behind pseudonyms, but that is no excuse for the film’s quality. Khanna’s character often speaks to the camera, but that is the only trick Gutte seems to have lifted from “House of Cards” and other political dramas.
Of the cast, Anupam Kher tries his best, but other than walking like Singh, swaying his arms side by side for some unfathomable reason and squeaking his lines, he doesn’t have much scope. Khanna is much more unrestrained as Baru and the film positions him as the buffer between the party and Singh, also making him the hero of the piece.
The rest of the cast seems to have been chosen based on how closely they resemble the top rung of the Congress party, but the standout performance here has to be from Suzanne Bernert, who gets Sonia Gandhi’s look, body language and accent just right.
For all the storm around it, “The Accidental Prime Minister” is a hollow film - it has nothing to say, no stand to take and no insight to offer about its subject.
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