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New Delhi: Viewers take note: election fever has hit the Indian film industry hard.
Beginning Friday, a string of biopics on famous politicians has been lined up for release in different languages just as general elections loom.
But don’t expect unbiased accounts. On the one hand, the movies will likely treat their subjects as inspiring figures. On the other, The Accidental Prime Minister, the Manmohan Singh biopic, has been challenged in the Supreme Court as a piece of political propaganda intended to damage the former premier’s reputation.
The Accidental Prime Minister and NTR Kathanayakudu, the first of a two-part Telugu film on the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao, are both up for release on Friday.
And if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is your hero, earlier this week, actor Vivek Oberoi was announced as the face of a Modi biopic.
A film on the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray titled Thackeray starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui will release later this month. Actor Mammootty will play another late Andhra chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, in a film called Yatra scheduled for a February release.
Projects on Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who has just stormed into a second term, his Andhra rival N. Chandrababu Naidu and the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa have also been announced.
Filmmakers deny they are cashing in on the general elections, due in April-May, although state assembly polls in both Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are due later this year.
“I don’t think any of us producers has planned the timing,” said Sandip Ssingh, co-producer of the Modi biopic, which will be titled PM Narendra Modi. The film will be directed by Omung Kumar, who has made biopics such as Mary Kom (2014) and Sarbjit (2016).
“We all individually decided how and when we wanted to make our films because we liked the stories. Right now, the noise is of a political nature, and we’re all witnessing it, so it all seems to just come together,” added Ssingh.
A plea filed in the Supreme Court earlier this week seeks a ban on The Accidental Prime Minister, alleging that the film has been produced with an intent to damage Manmohan Singh’s reputation and is political propaganda with other motives. The film’s director, Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, did not respond to Mint’s queries.
However, as filmmakers, Ssingh said, their job was to tell stories and not to strategize the agenda for a political party.
“These subjects are interesting because we’re talking of very influential Indian figures,” said Thackeray director Abhijit Panse, adding that the film is more a tribute to the late Shiv Sena chief and a documentation of his “inspiring journey from an ordinary cartoonist to a mega politician”.
He said the film was announced one and a half years ago and the only intention was to coincide its release with Thackeray’s birth anniversary on 23 January. The team apparently had no idea that so many other political biopics were being planned.
“I think every political party knows Bollywood is serious business today. Politics, Bollywood and cricket are the most influential things in our country. But there was no agenda with Thackeray, and it’s not like this is the beginning of biopics, several have been made already—it’s only in the news because of the media,” Panse said.
“Of course there will be curiosity (around the film) and it may help the election process, but that is not the intention or ambition,” he added.
Other than reaping revenue at the box office, the filmmakers are looking to generate publicity from public discussions and press coverage, showing how politics can command phenomenal amounts of advertising money.
“There is no doubt they will take the political narrative of a certain point of time forward,” said Manisha Priyam, a political analyst.