The impact of P M Modi on films and popular culture.
Narendra Modi as a prime minister might end up as a case study in popular culture. There have been equally popular and enigmatic heads of state in India but Modi is special.
This is a post aimed at looking at the impact of Modi on culture, films ever since he took oath in 2014. This is purely an apolitical post which takes no sides and looks purely from the lens of journalism and academia. I essentially look at his popularity and its manifestations.
THE RISE OF THE ENIGMA
“ Mitron, mujhe sirf 60 din do aur main notebandi ki pareshaani khatam kar doonga”, he said when demonetization hit India in November 2016. Rather than a leader who would guide his citizenry to the path ahead, Modi comes across as a spiritual guru who asks for faith from his followers. Rather like, give me faith and I will absolve you and treat you to make you better. True that he has made some remarkable changes in India’s functioning but his communication delivery is unique. Also, earlier Prime Ministers were seen as leaders and administrators but Modi is seen as all this plus a celebrity!
It actually comes from what I call, Primary Modi ducts and Secondary Modi ducts. The Primary ducts are essentially the official spokespersons of the BJP/Government, Cabinet Ministers, etc. and the Secondary Ducts are the popular culture influencers like “individual supporters” who are not BJP fans but Modi fans. So the secondary Ducts include people like journalists, writers, filmmakers and businessmen who wear their badge of loyalty to Mr Modi and make efforts in spreading his message further.
The secondary ducts of the PM are essentially a fascinating potpourri of self anointed and the appointed by BJP. For Instance, Arnab Goswami and Republic are vociferous supporters.
I was very interested in the films and content around Mr Modi since his anvil as India’s leader in 2014. One can look at “Mitron”, “Uri”, “Parmanu”, “ PM Narendra Modi”, “Tashkent Files”, “ Accidental Prime Minister”, “Modi” series on Eros Now and even the Namo TV are all examples of Modi and Brand Modi ingrained in national discourse.
Just a day after the Indian Air Force struck Balakot terror camps in Pakistan , a bunch of filmmakers in Mumbai registered names “Balakot” , “Pulwama” for any potential film projects. Uri ended up making Rs 325 crores globally with a relatively new star cast.
In fact, Modi uses films and their stars regularly in his tweets. He sees cinema as an effective marketing tool and never misses a chance at tweeting or posing with influencers from the industry right from his days as the CM of Gujarat.
I have compiled a list of films which may have been created by a direct/indirect reference to Modi and his cultural phenomenon. The fun quotient here is that all the following films except “Mitron” have been released in the last six months alone.
Mitron (Friends) : This small budget rom com starring Jacky Bhagnani and Kritika Kamra is titled after the legendary “Mitron” chant of Modi. Set in Ahmedabad, the film talks about a young aspirational couple which is trying to break the traditional Gujarati shackles by attempting various start up ideas in the process. Although the film doesn’t really make a direct reference to the Prime Minister but the film with its colors and the big push on start ups and development trends to stem from the policies of the state and central government. It doesn’t take rocket science to note that Modi’s rise also meant branding of his home state. The film makes an impassioned appeal that Gujarat despite being a right wing state has the facets of a new and resurgent India.
Uri “The Surgical Strike” : This film which has been declared as the highest grossing action film of all times in Bollywood talks about the surgical strike conducted after the terrorist attacks in Uri, Kashmir. This film has Modi imprinted all over. The exhaustive look alike of Modi played by Rajat Kapur and the NSA Ajit Doval played by Paresh Rawal. The chanting of “Howz The Josh” were classic reminders of a story which has been positioned as one of the true showcase initiatives of the Modi government. In fact Prime Minister Modi includes “Howz The Josh” in all his major communication. This has to be the first ever action film with an Indian prime minister’s strategic initiatives at the centre. The film glorified The Indian Army and the Indian government. Director Aditya Dhar and Producer Ronnie Screwvala ensured that actor Vicky Kaushal and his team fill enough bravado and macho ism that it will surely make you full of patriotism at another level.
The Accidental Prime Minister: This badly made film based on Sanjaya Baru’s book is an unlikely contender for this list. The story of how toothless and gutless can India’s most powerful man (Dr Manmohan Singh and Modi’s predecessor) can be is at the center of the narrative here. Poor production design, bad performances are the highlights here. The film talks of watershed moments like the Civil Nuclear Deal, Congress Party’s inner fiefdom, The loss of innocence of Rahul Gandhi and so on… And at the end you might feel that the film on UPA’a tenure is actually a palm greasing exercise on making the competition look stupid in front of NDA and Modi. The Director at the end of the film when UPA’s tenure is about to end inserts a nationalistic clip of Modi to which audience cheer unexpectedly. So in essence the story of this film actually makes Modi look stronger rather than make Manmohan Singh look weaker. Not to mention , the way Anupam Kher who plays Singh did a hash of a job at playing Singh and the fact that the Director Gutte is a well known BJP supporter with no substantial background in cinema production. In a similar measure “Tashkent Files” and “Parmanu” also indulge heavily on the bashing of the Congress party and actually end up pointing the compass to him.
MODI The Journey Of a Common Man : This web series produced by Eros and directed by Umesh Shukla is possibly the only nuanced account of Modi and his rise from a tea seller to India’s prime minister with various perspectives as of today. The show in its 10 episodes chronicles his life as a kid, his association with the Jan Sangh and BJP, his issues and challenges in the 2002 riots, his rise to being the CM and eventually India’s leader. The show highlights the leadership qualities of Modi and does glorify him. It also reveals a lot out of his personal life as well. The show has theatre veterans like Makrand Deshpande playing pivotal roles and does leave an impression from the days of Emergency as well. It’s quite engaging given the options available to us.
PM NARENDRA MODI : This unreleased film starring Vivek Oberoi as Modi is supposedly a biopic which has been stalled by the Election Commission for flouting the basic guidelines till the end of the general elections. To be fair, given the fact that I haven’t watched this film so I can’t really comment on the storytelling and filmmaking here. But having seen its various promos and the “team” behind the project, the time behind making this film is just 2 months nurtures the idea that it looks like yet another “Accidental Prime Minister” in the making. Although I do hope the film is good but choosing Oberoi who looks nothing like Modi and has a taller frame, this itself might be a deal breaker for the viewer. This film too sketches the Modi era from his childhood to his current iconic status.
To sum up, Narendra Modi is a unique person when it comes to brand value and the fact that he is seen as a concept and sellable idea makes it natural for filmmakers, writers to make more content around his persona. And no Prime Minister before him has ever had such a kind of celebrity following!