New Delhi: The film adaptation of Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister – released on January 11 – has been uniformly criticised for being a work of pure, unabashed propaganda. The Indian Express gave it no stars, NDTV, India Today, Hindustan Times and Scroll.in gave it 1 star each. The film has been variously described as “indescribably vapid”, “a shoddy propaganda film”, and a “dull, tortuous experience”.
Because the film claims truthfulness on the strength of Baru’s first-hand knowledge of the workings of the PMO and the Congress party during UPA’s reign, The Wire’s Siddharth Varadarajan sat down with him to discuss the differences between the book and the film – with a view towards the question of whether the film does justice to Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership.
Baru, who was Singh’s media adviser during his first term as prime minister from 2004 to 2009, prefers to interpret the word “propaganda” in its etymological sense – i.e. that (point of view) which is propagated – and thus rejects the charge of propaganda against the film. Yet he concedes that the film highlights certain elements of the book at the cost of others, for which reason he forsakes any responsibility for the film (“I am responsible only for the book, not the film”).
Played by Akshaye Khanna, Baru qua narrator is the central character in the film. This does not mean, of course, that Baru was a central character in the PMO, a point he readily concedes in response to the charge that has been made that he had exaggerated the role he played in real life.
When asked by Varadarajan whether the film is unfair to Manmohan Singh, Baru says yes. He admits that the filmmakers chose to make Singh look his current age, and that Singh was not as fragile or weak during his prime ministership as he is portrayed in the film.
Although Baru patently denies the accusation that his book contains lies – a charge leveled by the former national security adviser M.K. Narayanan – he concedes that he is – like everyone else – limited by his own point of view. Another person could have a different take on the events Baru witnessed, he said.
Watch the interview to find out more about the events that Baru was involved in (which constitute the material for the book and, to a lesser extent, the film), and his thoughts on the film and its representation of Manmohan Singh, the Gandhi family and others.
Anupam Kher plays Manmohan Singh in the film, while German actor Suzanne Bernert was seen as Sonia Gandhi.
The film was directed by Vijay R. Gutte, son of Ratnakar Gutte, an MLA from the BJP-allied Rashtriya Samaj Paksha.