The Accidental Prime Minister, the film based on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s days in office, has kicked up a major political controversy in the country. Anupam Kher, the actor playing the role of Dr Singh and a vocal admirer of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi in real life, is at the centre of the controversy. In a freewheeling interview to Uma Ramasubramanian, the actor speaks about his decision to accept the film role and accusations of a political agenda behind the film, while denying any personal political ambition. Notwithstanding the controversy, Mr Kher also expresses confidence that Dr Singh would appreciate the film once he sees it.
Did you know what you were getting into when you signed up for the film The Accidental Prime Minister?
I was getting into the Oscar awards. I was getting into great recognition. I was getting into a situation where people would say, as a reference point, this is what acting is all about. Of course, we knew it was a controversial book and that is a side business these days (to create controversies) and so controversies are bound to happen. But controversies help a good product and it can be disastrous to a bad product. But it should be perceived as one of the landmark films or a game changer film of Indian cinema because we finally have a film where people are named as they are. Twenty-five years down the line they will say it all started from this film. It doesn’t look like a clichéd Hindi film. Its made in a very lavish scale. If you forget about the controversy, the reaction to the trailer has been phenomenal.
But what was your instant reaction when the trailer hit the controversy?
I was like, great; now this film will get more publicity! And that’s it.
The Maharashtra Youth Congress has demanded a screening before release and on Friday you made it loud and clear that you wont bow down to their demands...?
Why do we have the CBFC? They are here for a certain job and they have done their work. Why should we show the film to anyone else when we have the right authority? It is a very obvious thing to not show it to anyone. The CBFC demanded a few cuts and we abide by the rules set by them. It has got a UA certificate.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali eventually had to show his film Padmaavat to the Karni Sena and bow down to their demands.
No I don’t think so ...not at all. We didn’t have to go through that and he should also not have gone through that nonsense. Even now, people are commenting from different parts of India. But I have kept my stance clear.
Were you considering releasing this film digitally, which is much safer knowing the nature of the subject?
No, not at all. It is a feature film and we have made it in two languages. We shot it in Hindi and English so you can imagine the scale of the film. It is a magnum opus film. We finished the film and then dubbed it in Tamil and Telugu. It is a big canvas film.
Did you meet Manmohan Singh before taking up this role?
I have met him during one or two events, but we never came face to face. But in today’s times, there is so much of material available on the Internet that you do not need to meet a public figure in person to pick up fine details of his personality. However, I would like to meet him after he sees the film. I did not meet him before the film was made as he was not happy with the book. So how could I say now we are making a film on this and I would like to meet you. I knew that he would not want to meet me, which was an obvious thing to happen.
How would you describe your journey in this industry?
It’s fascinating because how many actors can boast about their journey and why should life be a cakewalk for anyone? The journey which does not have obstacles and ups and downs is not worth going on. I believe a lot in autobiographies. The most inspiring stories, be it Gandhi, Chaplin, had challenges and ups and downs. And unless it is not challenging, it is not exceptional. I am proud of my journey.
Freedom of expression is being curbed. Do you feel filmmaking is only getting difficult?
I did a Tamil film which is based on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and that film has not been released till date. It has been 30 years. So I have been in that phase and its nothing new for us. So as an actor, I have been in such a situations before and controversies have always been part of it; they are not new to us.
Rishi Kapoor doesn’t easily praise anyone’s work. He has appreciated the trailer of The Accidental Prime Minister...
It is fantastic. I have got some amazing messages form people and if somebody acknowledges your work whose opinion matters to you, it only encourages you. I did not even call him up and ask him to watch it. He tweeted about it and liked it. I am more than happy that he loved it.
Do you feel now this film will also pave the way for other political drama films?
Yes it will and I am certain about it. I read Vivek Oberoi is playing Narendra Modi. I also feel that the most fascinating biography will be on Sonia Gandhi. She had an amazing journey from Italy to being married to a pilot who became the PM. Now she is the most powerful woman in our country and it is an inspirational story.
Would you like to portray some BJP personality on screen?
I was a great admirer of Atal Behari Vajpayee. But why only the BJP? I would like to pay anybody, and why not?
Any plans for joining politics?
This is a tragedy that when somebody gives an opinion on social causes or on the country, he should join politics. My comment as an individual is sufficient to make a difference.