A zero-star rating for my first movie, but I'm proud

There is a definite audience in India for a political film, and so polarised is our society that even a poorly made film will find its partisan fans.

By Aditya Sinha (Going Viral)

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Published: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 8:10 PM

Last updated: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 10:11 PM

Friday morning, I trudged out in the wintry cold to catch a 10am "first day first show" of The Accidental Prime Minister. It's based on the eponymous memoir by Sanjaya Baru, India's former prime minister Manmohan Singh's media advisor, and was 2014's bestseller. It stars Anupam Kher in the title role (though it is Akshaye Khanna who dominates the film as Baru, a conscious decision by the director and writers).
Kher is an outspoken supporter of India's prime minister Narendra Modi, and since the Bharatiya Janata Party's official social media handles shared the trailer upon its launch, many presumed the film would be a hatchet job against Dr Singh and Congress party's Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
As mentioned earlier, I co-wrote the film and was keen to see how it turned out. I'd seen rushes while shooting was in progress in Delhi - the unit had returned from England where the indoor scenes of the PM's office were shot - and wasn't overly impressed (much to the director's chagrin). Still, I was proud of being a part a Bollywood movie, my first, and had I been more confident I would have booked two dozen seats and dragged along my relatives, as well as my elderly parents visiting from the US.
I had decided against a family after the reviews started pouring in on Thursday. They were not kind (the Khaleej Times review was an outlier): on www.sahinahi.com, India's version of 'Rotten Tomatoes', The Accidental Prime Minister scores a measly 15 per cent. Not unexpected because, as the lead writer pointed out, most Indian film critics are liberals if not leftists. However, this was unexpected: one respected newspaper gave it no stars (out of five), another gave one star, and two websites each gave half a star. Only India's largest newspaper, whose film reviews are based solely on advertising and other commercial considerations, gave it three and a half stars (it never gives below three). The consensus: the film was not just BJP propaganda, it was also terribly made.
So, I slipped out alone early Friday morning to see the film. There were about 30-32 other people in the multiplex auditorium, mostly middle-aged with some senior citizens. The lights went down. The muscular, chant-sounding song that the director had played for me a year ago that was to score the opening credits was missing. I was nonetheless exhilarated to see my name when 'written by' popped up. Then, the film began.
It was boring. Not because I knew the screenplay, but because the film never seemed to find its rhythm. The tempo was missing. The background score was jarring: only a soulless person could have chosen it. Such dissonant music made last year's Andhadhun seem even more brilliant. (That was the James Hadley Chase type film with a fake-blind pianist.) Then the way the characters were depicted was unnecessarily caricaturish (other than Modi, shown in actual news clips, who naturally came across as strong and authentic): Kher did an unfair portrayal of Dr Singh, 'Sonia' belonged in a Ramsay Brothers' vampire film, and 'Rahul' belonged in the 1932 American classic, Freaks. It was unnecessary because the mere fact of the film is enough to unfavourably portray the Congress leadership.
I brightened up momentarily when I saw myself on the screen: I have a scene where I ask Akshaye's character a couple of questions about Dr Singh's increasing political troubles. I also felt satisfaction with several scenes I wrote into the script though I wasn't all that happy with the execution. I had known the movie wasn't being made by an auteur, but the film wouldn't have lost anything had it been a bit more artistic or shown just a hint of out-of-the-box creativity.
When the film ended I stood up to make a rapid exit, and to my surprise a group of four-five uncles and aunties applauded. On Twitter, a former colleague from my last newspaper posted about how he liked the film, and that he spotted his former Editor in a scene: this tweet has astoundingly got (at last count) approximately 400 retweets and 2,000 likes. NRIs appear to be keen to watch the film. A cousin who enjoyed it told me how the audience cheered when Modi appeared towards the end.
There is a definite audience in India for a political film, and so polarised is our society that even a poorly made film will find its partisan fans.
Over the weekend, however, the film took in only Rs120 million ($1.7 million), which is well below the Rs300-350 million it cost to make. From Monday, collections usually plunge though newspapers have reported that BJP units have made block bookings for local units and cadre. In any case, I am proud that I was part of a movie that was so bad that it got no stars. How many other people can make a similar claim?
Aditya Sinha's latest book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy, co-written with Yashwant Sinha, is out now

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