Movies kick off poll campaign

Propaganda biopics are a trend this election season, but the question is, ‘Will their box-office success translate into votes?’
Last Updated 29 January 2019, 18:56 IST

Earlier this month, Metrolife had warned neta biopics would be the flavour of the season. Films released in January have shown there’s more to this flavour: they are no innocent biopics, but propaganda films masquerading as biopics.

Metrolife had taken a look at four big releases and found they weren’t political films in the conventional sense. The conventional political film would be like Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997), which, even while exploring political rivalries, was ‘political’ because it covered politics, with its objective not being to influence voters ahead of the elections.

Since the Metrolife article was published, public discussions about The Accidental Prime Minister, Thackeray and have concentrated on how their protagonists are exaggerated versions of their real-life selves.

Uri, with surgical strikes on Pakistan as its theme, was criticised for glorifying what the current government wants glorified. Seetharama Kalyana, which features Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s son in the lead, was accused of having been made to further the father’s politics.

The two biopics may also be the answer to those asking what innovations in electioneering we can see this time around.

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections had seen an extraordinarily ambitious electoral campaign, considered one of the largest ever in a democracy. While the Internet had been around much before, it wasn’t as accessible before 2009 (when the UPA won), and social media wasn’t as popular as it became five years later.

In the run-up to 2014, more Indians had gained access to the Internet than ever before and social media was booming.

Experts today agree social media was a major reason the Modi wave reached the heights it did. The other parties caught up only after the deal was sealed, and rumours of more investment in social media teams have been rife. (Notice how at some point in the last couple of years Rahul Gandhi’s tweets became more erudite and witty than before. Twitterati was quick to notice. “Rahul’s got a ghost-tweeter,” they cried.)

Now 2019 is here, and the countdown has begun. It is just weeks before India chooses a new government.

As for social media, there’s no monopoly, and it’s up for grabs. However, given that India is the most prolific film industry in the world, parties have realised that’s a cow they haven’t milked (pun intended).

While The Accidental Prime Minister’s earnings are decent, Uri has become massively popular at the box office and is surging ahead. It’s too early to predict Thackeray’s fate.

While there are sceptics who believe that excitement over a Bollywood movie need not translate to votes, the history of Tamil and Telugu movies has shown otherwise.

Karunanidhi’s politically charged scripts helped DMK along, just like NTR’s enduring image as Lord Krishna helped the TDP.

Seetharama Kalyana has scenes where Nikhil’s character praises his on-screen father to the skies, believed to in fact be praises for his off-screen father. In addition, there have been rumours of the immiment launch of Nikhil’s political career.

In an interview with Metrolife, Nikhil had said the script for the film was chosen by the chief minister himself.

And to every person saying those films did not outright emasculate a former prime minister, there’s another saying Dr Manmohan Singh was the only prime minister who never opened his mouth. The only way to find out what worked and what didn’t, of course, is to wait for the election results.

(Published 29 January 2019, 12:42 IST)

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