PM Narendra Modi movie review: Vivek Oberoi hams his way through an unwittingly farcical, comical hagiography

PM Narendra Modi is a highly fictionalised account of the present Indian prime minister’s life.

Anna MM Vetticad May 24, 2019 11:35:34 IST

0.25/5

(Note: Our software does not accommodate less than 0.25 stars in the rating graphic. The actual rating given to this film by our critic is 0 stars.)

This week’s new Bollywood release, director Omung Kumar B’s PM Narendra Modi, is not a biography. It is an unwittingly farcical, comical hagiography of Narendra Modi and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), and even that is a euphemistic description. To put it simply, this is a highly fictionalised account of the present Indian prime minister’s life.

PM Narendra Modi movie review Vivek Oberoi hams his way through an unwittingly farcical comical hagiography

Vivek Anand Oberoi in a still from PM Narendra Modi. YouTube

Omung Kumar’s recall value so far has come from the vastly superior Priyanka Chopra-starrer Mary Kom (2014) and the embarrassingly bad Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-starrer Sarbjit (2016). PM Narendra Modi falls into the so-bad-it-could-be-fun category, except that it is not fun at all – it is, instead, an insult to viewer intelligence and viewer knowledge.

"Modi ek insaan nahin, ek soch hai (Modi is not a person, Modi is a way of thinking/a concept),” says the protagonist himself at one point. Aur Modi ke baare mein soch badalne ke liye, to change the thinking about Modi, the screenplay – co-written by Anirudh Chawla and the leading man, Vivek Anand Oberoi – runs facts through a carefully chosen sieve and presents a new, rewritten history so far removed from recorded reality, that it bears little resemblance to the actual Modi. In that sense, PM Narendra Modi reminded me of a scene in last year’s Malayalam feature Kammara Sambhavamin which the hero watches a PR film about his life and does not recognise himself on screen.

Things that did not happen in Modi’s life are in this film shown to have happened: he is shown being arrested during the Emergency, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is shown praising him to the press during the 2002 riots, in the run-up to the 2014 election Modi is shown volunteering to do a live interview with a hostile TV journalist before an audience and acing it. In the face of such liberties with facts involving major historical events, all PM Narendra Modi’s other follies and flaws – the word “grateful” being spelt as “greatful” in the opening acknowledgements, the lazy caricature of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Modi’s corrupt government colleague in Gujarat, the false suggestion that Modi never married, other monumental exaggerations and misrepresentations in the screenplay, Hitesh Modak’s overbearing background score and the overall tackiness of the narrative – pale into insignificance.

It is worth mentioning here that the aforementioned hostile journalist is a stooge of a corrupt industrialist called Aditya Reddy, played by Prashant Narayanan. Three enemies are very clearly marked out by PM Narendra Modi: Pakistan, the news media and, through the medium of the Reddy character, the dark-skinned self-serving south Indian.

On Vivek Oberoi’s shoulders falls the task of playing this larger-than-life version of Modi, determined to vanquish all three. Most of Oberoi’s co-stars are comparatively irrelevant because their roles are dwarfed by his, but despite being dealt the same hand, their performances are a mixed bag. Manoj Joshi looks oddly wimpish as Amit Shah (the BJP chief’s full name is muted out in the film for some reason), but Boman Irani brings some dignity to the role of Ratan Tata as does Zarina Wahab playing Modi’s mother. In an ocean of mediocrity, Anjan Shrivastav does a reasonably good take on Vajpayee without resorting to gimmicky mimicry.

As for Oberoi, well, in the actor who hams his way through this role, there is no trace of the young debutant who showed such spark under Ram Gopal Varma’s guidance in 2002’s Company. It is sad to watch an artist lose his touch. For those of us who saw something in him in Company, the only consolation is that his turn as Modi is less cringe-worthy than his performance as a horny young chap in Masti (2004), Grand Masti (2013) and Great Grand Masti (2016).

If you think about it, despite the apparent contrast between them, the Masti trilogy and PM Narendra Modi both offer conventionally accepted definitions of masculinity. The Mastis used slapstick comedy as a vehicle to present us with men driven by their nether regions and their hormones as men naturally would be, or so we are given to understand. In PM Narendra Modi, the hero espouses an earnest, asexual, aggressive machoism, initially speaking of wanting to renounce the world and follow the path taken by Lord Buddha, and in the climactic moments ascribing his decisiveness – as the real life Narendra Modi has done – to a 56-inch chest. You see, his political journey is not a consequence of personal ambition, it is the answer to the public’s prayerful longing for “ek sachcha mard (a real man)” to lead them, to quote the words of a character early in the film.

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