The Accidental Prime Minister movie review: Inelegant adaptation with blatant disregard for Manmohan Singh

The Accidental Prime Minister movie review: Inelegant adaptation with blatant disregard for Manmohan Singh

The film opens with a claim that it is a faithful adaptation of Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same name. It covers the 10-year period from the 2004 election and the elevation of Dr Manmohan Singh to prime minister by party president Sonia Gandhi to 2014, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ceded power.

When he took office in 2004, Singh hired journalist Baru as his media strategist, giving him a front row seat to the workings of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) from 2004-08. Akshaye Khanna conveys Baru’s frustration with Singh’s cautious approach, his fondness for the statesman and also divulges not only his own ambitions but also squarely establishes the level of interference from the party president and her team.

Anupam Kher takes details of Singh’s walk, voice, mannerisms and exaggerates them. The awkwardly swinging arms, slightly stooped shoulders and timid voice, along with the slant of the story, become the dominant image whereas Singh’s sharp mind and achievements as an economist of repute are painted over. His walk is puppet-like, and he is portrayed as someone incapable of taking decisions confidently or without guidance.

Director A takes liberties with the designing of Baru. He is imagined like Frank Underwood from House of Cards,  breaking the fourth wall, and conspiratorially sharing his insights and opinions on the PMO. One dialogue that summarises Baru’s position is: “Doctor put family before party and that was his biggest mistake.” 

A technical plus-point is the casting, with the actors getting ample support from wigs, prosthetics, make up and costume, and often being referred to by their given names.

The fumbles in The Accidental Prime Minister lie in the screenplay (by Gutte, Mayank Tiwari, Aditya Sinha and Karl Dunne) and the tonally confused direction. At times, it is comic, at times tense, mostly jumbled, hurried and without layers. Gutte intercuts news footage with dramatisation and the use of diffused lighting only makes the images more tacky. The overused background music also changes character to establish the mood of the scene. The occasional humour is showcased in scenes between Singh and Baru.

The political drama of ‘turf wars’ is more reference than demonstration in this 110-minute long which hurtles through a decade of events including two elections, nuclear treaties, scams (3G, CWG), heart attacks etc. Your heart goes out to Singh when he attempts to resign in the wake of scandals not of his making, but for which he was blamed.

The intent of the film is less confused than the direction, with the timing of the release (in election year), the selection of a book disavowed by the Singh family and Congress party, and a blatant disregard for a leader-in-waiting.

Suzanne Bernet is on point as Sonia Gandhi (Italian-Indian accent, deadpan face et al) — a tough leader aided by a sharp career bureaucrat Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma). Arjun Mathur plays Rahul as an incoherent man-child while Aahana Kumra has two blink-and-miss scenes as Priyanka Gandhi.

I came away with Akshaye Khanna’s smug smile and his jaunty walk. He is conspiratorial throughout, occasional pensive and seemingly having the last laugh in an unaccomplished and inelegant adaptation.