Just weeks ahead of the first phase of polling, the trailer for the Vivek Oberoi-starrer, PM Narendra Modi: The Story of a Billion People, has garnered over 14 million views on YouTube, capturing the top trending slots.
The propaganda film, that masquerades as a biopic, not just strengthens the personality cult around the Indian PM,but also airbrushes serious allegations about his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots that have bedevilled Modi for close to two decades.
It presents Modi as a larger-than-life, decisive, uber-patriot who is deeply human and alive to the tragedies visited upon his people. The trailer seems to be suggesting that you don’t get better than this. All similarities to the BJP election campaign are purely coincidental.
At two-and-a-half-minutes, the trailer starts ominously enough with the voice over noting, "Aap Kashmir ke mudde ko bhadhayenge, to desh ke tukde-tukde ho jayenge" (If you incite the Kashmir issue, India will be cut up into pieces), as a broad-shouldered man walks into the horizon, hands folded, back to the audience. It’s a less-than-subtle jab at the so-called "tukde-tukde gang", a phrase that is now the staple of right-wing social media handles and prime time TV debates. But it sets the tone for what will follow.
Next, another voiceover proclaims, "The end of Narendra Modi!", while a bespectacled man burns a piece of paper. It segues into the punch line, "How can an ordinary chaiwala become a PM?" and we have Vivek Oberoi as Narendra Modi unmasked.
From there the trailer takes viewers into Modi's childhood and formative years. There are shots of Modi expressing his desire to become a ascetic followed by a montage that you'd think is ripped straight out of Batman Begins. Here is a man living on scraps, walking through barren, difficult lands and engaging in physical labour by himself.
In a later scene, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) virtues are extolled."RSS is not just a group, it's an army", an instructor says, as a villainised Indira Gandhi orders the arrest of RSS functionaries presumably during the Emergency. Scenes of repression and death follow. A distraught Modi is shown carrying a body on his shoulders, revealing him to be a person who is real and relatable. But also someone who is determined to fight Indira Gandhi and the Congress party that she nurtured.
Yet another scene features very a patriotic shot of Modi leading a group carrying the tricolour across a bridge, escorted by Army personnel, as an unidentified enemy attacks. Vivek Oberoi’s Modi here, of course, has the biggest tricolour and lifts it bravely when even the Army personnel take cover from the firing. Just because the concept of subtlety doesn't exist in this movie, he even says: "India will not fear terror, terror will fear India."
The rest of the trailer deals with the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots in an offhand and revisionist manner, culminating in the most meme-ified scene from the trailer: "Mera Gujarat jal raha hai" (My Gujarat is burning). Modi, wearing his best pained expression, is rediscovered as the CM who is crushed by riots in which more than 1,000 people died. Modi battled charges of having done little to stem the anti-Muslim violence that engulfed the state in the wake of the Godhra train burning. This effectively seeks to close the chapter on the most troubling phase of Modi’s life in a way that the prime minister would possibly like it laid to rest. Why, here is a man who would feel pain even if a puppy was crushed under the wheels of his car, and you are talking of an entire state burning. Nicely done, director Omung Kumar.
From there, it moves to the infamous Akshardham temple attack as Modi says, "I will not move until the people are made safe", and then standing over the corpse of one of the terrorists and issuing a warning that he will cut off Pakistan's hands if they attack India again.
With the Model Code of Conduct already in force, it is anyone's guess why this apparently poorly-made, Modi-worshipping film is allowed to release on April 5, a handful of days before the first phase of polling starts on the 11th. It looks neither interesting nor compelling and presents a picture of Modi that he himself may be thrilled to endorse as the real thing.