The Accidental Prime Minister has been criticized in many quarters as a political propaganda by the BJP. The most the film can be criticized is that it does not speak at all on the role played by BJP and other opposition parties to try to destabilize Manmohan Singh’s tenure. The film focuses on three key players – The Prime Minister, The Congress President and her son, and the Prime Minister’s Man Friday Sanjaya Baru. The film does not even cover Priyanka Vadra or rest of the Congress Party, save Ahmed Patel. It is widely known that Manmohan Singh got the prime-ministership as a stop-gap arrangement before the family scion was ready to take over the mantle. We have seen how the PMO and the Party many times seemed to be working at odds with each other. To oppose a film that re-tells the same story does not make much sense. Ironically, just as controversy made the titular book popular, a similar controversy could help sell tickets for the film.
The film starts with 2004 general elections results which gave Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) the opportunity to become the PM. In a master stroke and perhaps to the consternation of opposition parties, the Congress President declined the position. Instead the party chose Manmohan Singh (Anupam Kher), an unlikely leader for a populous nation like India. The Prime Minister, being a bureaucrat himself, chose an outsider Sanjaya Baru (Akshaye Khanna) for the role of Media Adviser. It proved to be a smart choice because without the constraints of a bureaucratic set-up, Sanjaya was able to provide unfettered feedback to the PM. He was also not under the influence of the Family. Beside the main thread of the challenges to the Prime Minister, there is an interesting side story on the power grab by bureaucrats who make no concessions for friends as far as turf wars go. To some extent, it shows the insecurities of people even at the highest levels of governance.
The film follows Manmohan Singh as he tries to be a real leader and succeeds too. The nuclear deal is a crowning moment for the PM which helps Congress win a second term. The credit for the win, of course, is given to Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur). Manmohan Singh’s second term is notorious for scandals which rocked the nation one after another culminating in a massive defeat for the Congress and the ascent of Narendra Modi.
Anupam Kher as Manmohan Singh has got the look right and portrays the angst well. But what’s with the robotic walk with hands stuck in an awkward manner? Both his walk and the voice were exaggerations and rather jarring. Suzanne Bernert is perfect as Sonia Gandhi, the deadpan leader who keeps her thoughts and emotions hidden. It is Akshaye Khanna who stands tall. His Sanjaya Baru is so riveting, you’d want him in all scenes. Without Akshaye’s compelling portrayal of Sanjaya, the film would be nowhere near what it shaped up to be. He is the soul of the film. The director would have been better off not mixing real footage in the film.
In the film, Sanjaya Baru says Manmohan Singh never talked to him after the book came out. The latter should thank Baru for the story. Because this film will restore some of the glory that the former PM lost in the second term. For the Congress High Command though, it a completely different matter.