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The Accidental Prime Minister review: Kher, Khanna raise the bar in an otherwise average flick

Anupam Kher provides Dr Manmohan Singh with a measure of dignity but Akshay Khanna steals the show as Sanjaya Baru

Source: Sify

By: Prathmesh Kher / Sify.com

Critic's Rating: 2.5/5

Friday 11 January 2019

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Movie Title

The Accidental Prime Minister

Director

Vijay Ratnakar Gutte

Star Cast

Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Aahana Kumra, Suzanne Bernet, Arjun Mathur

'Myths were lies breathed through silver' C S Lewis once wrote. Although such lofty ambitions are not at the heart of The Accidental Prime Minister, it does have a story to tell. The movie based on the 2014 memoir of the same name by Sanjaya Baru, who was former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's media advisor, alleges that Dr Singh was not entirely in control of his cabinet or even the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and reveals, or at least suggests by professed revelation, that significant power was wielded by the Congress party's president Sonia Gandhi, to whom Singh was subservient. Considering it clocks in at less than two hours, the movie covers nearly a full decade's worth of politics; from Sonia Gandhi's selection of Dr Singh as Prime Minister, to his early days in office, the passing of his mentor P V Narasimha Rao, the India-US nuclear deal and the many scams in Singh's second term.

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Anupam Kher leads the movie and the government therein as Dr Singh, playing him in understated fashion, never quite a caricature nor altogether revelatory of the man's true inner workings. Of particular note is Kher's performance as he enters his office for the first time as Prime Minister, reminiscing about the many positions he'd held in those very corridors of power. As he gently touches the chair in the office he is given a measure of dignity that his critics of yore would not have deigned to afford him. Kher presents Manmohan Singh is a self-aware man, conscious that he was chosen where other peers and seniors were not, and makes an effort to do the right thing in his own genteel manner.

The real heroics of this piece thus are granted to Akshay Khanna, who plays Sanjaya Baru and employs the lack of a defined public image to full effect in his performance. Dressed in the flashiest suits to have ever graced Raisina Hill's South Block, Khanna's Baru is an affably charming, quick-witted, fourth wall breaking media man in a sort of paternal love for Kher's Dr Singh whilst fully aware of his boss' shortcomings as a political animal. If Kher's technocratic Manmohan Singh is the soul of this two-man band then Khanna's Sanjaya Baru is its heart.

While the other parts in the movie, including that of Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, essayed by Arjun Mathur and Vipin Sharma respectively, are given little to work with, Suzanna Bernert does give Sonia Gandhi life within the diktats of the role.

Much of the movie's intended disapprobation of the dual centres of power of Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh is presented through covert edits rather than express dialogue. The film takes great pains to portray Dr Singh akin to Mahabharata's Bhishma, a wise old patriarch without malice locked in the middle of family drama. "There cannot be two centres of power, I have to accept that the party president is the centre of power,” the movie's Dr Singh explains to Baru.

One does not suspect the Congress need to worry about the portrayal of the Gandhis; there are no revelations about the party or its leadership that anyone with insight does not already know at this late date.

But for all its strong performances the movie does have its downsides. Choppily edited scenes often jump ahead seemingly without an internal rhythm. The writing, much like the pacing of the movie, is too convenient at times and the continual muting of select words or phrases (looking at you CBFC) is distracting and feels like an act of supererogation on the part of the censors.

  

The decision to cut together the movie versions of the political players with news footage featuring their real-world counterparts is also jarring. Why bother casting Anupam Kher if you will simply show Dr Singh's meet with George Bush via stock footage.

Incidentally, for a movie that hits theatres in an election year, the story has surprisingly little time for the then-Opposition, now-incumbent BJP, including current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who only make cursory appearances at key junctures in the story.

The Accidental Prime Minister, at its core, stages itself as a relationship of two men beset by palace politics in the world's largest democracy. If you are moved by this fictionalised version of Dr Manmohan Singh and Sanjaya Baru then you'd have had a good time watching this piece. If not, que sera sera.