Story Based on the book with the same name, The Accidental Prime Minister chronicles former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s (Anupam Kher) relationship with his media advisor Sanjaya Baru (Akshaye Khanna). While the film focuses largely on how Baru struggled with managing Dr Singh’s public image, it also touches upon United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s key milestones, like the nuclear deal and Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s undisputed authority within the party.
The Accidental Prime Minister opens with a heavily pixelated TV news footage from the 2004 victory of the UPA in the general elections. This quickly gives way to the actors behaving and looking strikingly similar to all real life political players. The film could have easily degenerated into a tacky spoof-fest had it not been for its unusual execution and some stellar performances.
Kher leads the pack as the submissive Prime Minister, who is sworn-in amidst wide-ranging skepticism within the ranks. His performance progressively grows on you, gradually evoking empathy for his character. Kher makes Singh’s trademark soft spoken demeanor and skittish walk, his own. You will find yourself rooting for him, whether he is mustering the courage to do the right thing, or succumbing to the powers that play him (read: dynasty politics).
But a lot of support comes from his co-actor Akshaye Khanna, who ensures there’s never a dull moment in this political drama. Whether it is the crucial nuclear deal or petty politics that repeatedly threatens his own job, he never lets any tension become palpable, thanks to his easy charm. Often talking into the camera, Khanna is quick to strike a chord with the audience also playing the narrator.
Rest of the characters range from believable to mere caricatures. German actress Suzanne Bernert as Sonia Gandhi looks and acts her part with stoic seriousness. Actors playing Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi sadly, don’t have much to contribute. Divya Seth Shah as the first lady Gursharan Kaur is impressive with her understated performance. Most actors playing ministers, opposition party leaders and news anchors are relegated to being caricatures of the original. There are no songs in the film but the background score adds punch to the political rumblings.
Debutante director and co-writer Vijay Ratnakar Gutte brushes past a few uncomfortable scams (2G, 3G) in the 10-year-term of the UPA, except the nuclear deal.
However, the impact of Manmohan Singh’s actions on the junta is never really shown beyond a newsroom debate and a few newspaper headlines. At times, the film becomes convenient and lazy in execution, showing just close door scenes and intercutting with grainy file footage. The edit is a tad bit sketchy. But what the Accidental Prime Minister lacks in finesse, it makes up in being totally in-your-face.
The film bravely names real characters and shows them in the light they are perceived in. We wish the writing had more depth with more focus on defining the individual characters.
Bollywood has produced several political dramas that are intense, complex and dark, The Accidental Prime Minister has all of that in measured tones. It leaves you more entertained than informed, and we don’t think it’s by accident.