Omung Kumar on PM Narendra Modi biopic: People release films on festivals, so why not during election?

Seema Sinha

Apr 04, 2019 08:54:15 IST

Omung Kumar has helmed two biopics in the past – Mary Kom (2014) that chronicled the life of the boxer, and Sarbjit (2016) which was based on an Indian national convicted of terrorism and spying by a Pakistani court. But it is his third one, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (set to release on 5 April, ahead of Lok Sabha polls) that has given him sleepless nights, not just because of the several controversies the film has courted one after the other, but for making a movie on, as he puts it, the prime minister who is a living power.

Omung Kumar on PM Narendra Modi biopic: People release films on festivals, so why not during election?

A poster of the film PM Narendra Modi. File Image

“People didn’t know much about Mary Kom. Sarbjit and Dalbir is still a dark area, but this is a real life character in your face. I had to portray him in a way that people would believe in. That was a big call. What should be shown? What should be left out? What would be believable? How much heroism can be shown? You cannot go wrong with facts because everything is in the public domain. I couldn’t have spoiled his or anyone else’s image,” says Omung.

While the film’s producer, Sandip Ssingh has taken the responsibility of fielding controversies, Omung chose to stay away from them. “These days, I often sit in a dark room doing my mixing, I don’t know what is happening in the world outside. I have come out after several days. People just want to talk and get mileage. Sandeep doesn’t let any pressure come on me. He is tackling all of that,” he says.

One of the major criticisms of the film has been that it has whitewashed Modi's life which makes it look like blatant propaganda. Secondly, questions are being raised about the timing of the film’s release which is just six days ahead of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election 2019. Several political parties asked to delay the release of the film as they it it violated the model code of conduct. And even as Omung is trying to steer clear of these controversies, he is inundated with calls and messages.“Various television channels have been inviting me for panel discussions, but I am not interested. I am not used to sitting with four people and debating. I can’t shout and argue my point, I am not made for that. Also, I don’t owe an explanation to people. My film will do all the talking,” said the director, further adding, “I had expected controversies to spring up because he (Modi) is a huge political personality, but I didn’t know that it would snowball into such a massive one. But believe me, I don’t care.”

He continues, “People release films on Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Independence Day...so why not during elections? Yes, we were supposed to release on 12 April, but now Kalank is coming on the 17 and that would give us just a four-day window which doesn’t make sense. Our producers have every right to think about the box office results and therefore, they decided to move the release ahead by a week. We have completed the film in record time. We had a second unit, I had many assistant directors who worked really fast. One can make a film in 52 days but we have completed ours in 38 days, so why shouldn't we release the film if it is ready?” asks the director.

Referring to the credit row wherein Javed Akhtar had expressed shock over his name being mentioned in credits of the film, followed by Shabana Azmi accusing the makers of misleading the public into believing that Akhtar had written the songs for PM Narendra Modi, Omung said, “That issue has been cleared. It was obvious that we had to give them credit. We had taken the songs from T-Series and since their names were there already, we had to give them (Akhtar and Sameer) credit. Before we could clarify, the matter went out of our hands and it became a big controversy. Everyone kept quiet once they got clarity,” said the director.

Refuting all allegations, Omung said that his biggest inspiration to make the biopic was the human interest in Modi's story. “There has never been a movie on an incumbent power prime minister and that is a huge responsibility on my shoulders. Whether you are trolling, or liking, it is making news. People are curious. I have not made a political film, I am not a politically inclined person. I am just telling a story, a very extraordinary journey of a person, a chaiwala who was predicted 60 years ago to become the prime minister of this country. His journey and childhood is the biggest inspiration for me. I am not concerned about his opposition, which are the political parties…If I make a political film then only those who are politically inclined will watch it. I won’t even call it a commercial venture. ‘Zero to hero’ is what his story is like,” explains Omung.

When asked about how he managed to rope Vivek in, he says, “Vivek and I bonded really well when we were judging India’s Best Dramebaaz. I decided to direct him one day and around the same time, Sandeep came with the proposal of the biopic. Vivek immediately agreed to do it and he also told me that four years back, he was offered Modi’s biopic which I wasn’t aware of. Vivek knows Modi more than I know him. He has met him. While I was doing my research separately, he was working more on the physical aspects, how Modi speaks, walks and talks. When we started doing the look test, Vivek just fit into the character completely." Omung decided not to meet the prime minister because he wanted to be "neutral". "I wanted to tell the story and not be in awe of him," he says.

Vivek Oberoi in the Narendra Modi biopic

Vivek Oberoi in the Narendra Modi biopic

When asked if he has shown the biggest controversies surrounding the PM, the director says, “Yes, of course, I have shown the Godhra riots and the nine hours of grilling by the SIT (Special Investigation Team). Everything is there in the film. Our writers have done lot of research on Modi’s speeches, and we have also included some anecdotes so that we have more facts in the biopic. Vivek is not only a good orator but he also writes well and hence, I have given him credit for dialogue writing. He is a fantastic actor, he doesn’t require much direction. He’s completely dedicated and engrossed. How Modi talks, walks, his hand movements, his body language, postures, diction…Vivek and I were on the same page on everything. My own research involved lot of reading, going to actual locations and meeting people. I would visit houses and take stories from them. I found out where Modi was on sanyas for two years."

Looks like biopics have become Omung’s forte and he is happy that people have started trusting him with the stories. “I try to avoid making biopics, but then the stories are so compelling, and like I have always said, if I don’t make it, someone else will. Also, people feel that I will not make a bad one, so that's motivating. Considering that I have made biopics on three big personalities, people don’t take me lightly anymore,” he says.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2019 09:10:11 IST

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