Election Commission can postpone release of film, web series on PM Modi

Since a Web series and a biopic on Prime Minister Modi have ‘nothing to do with elections’, the Election Commission can safely ask distributors to release them after May 19

Election Commission can postpone release of film, web series on PM Modi

Biswadeep Ghosh

The character of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be seen in an Eros Now web series eponymously titled Modi during the Lok Sabha election season in April. Helmed by Umesh Shukla, who has made films like OMG - Oh My God and 102 Not Out, the series has been written by Censor Board member and writer Mihir Bhuta and Radhika Anand. Mahesh Thakur is enacting the older avatar of the PM, and Ashish Sharma, his younger days.

Reportedly shot in Siddhpur, Vadnagar and rural Gujarat, the series will unveil Modi’s life, ending with him taking oath as the Prime Minister.

Will it offer a critical perspective on the man? That is unlikely. Claims of giving a balanced view notwithstanding, it won’t surprise anybody if the series has a hagiographic quality that will appeal to those who revere Modi for his politics and biases.

Video-on-demand services, in other words, is likely to make its first contribution to well-timed propaganda masquerading as mass-based entertainment. These services are becoming increasingly popular among urban Indian residents of major cities. That said, the average Indian doesn’t access them yet.

Films, on the contrary, make millions gravitate to the theatres. So, a much-hyped biopic of the PM is on the way, too. The Omung Kumar-helmed film, unimaginatively titled ‘PM Narendra Modi’ and starring Vivek Anand Oberoi in the title role, is enthusiastically being promoted by Modi supporters on social media and is releasing on April 5. Earlier it was scheduled to be released on April 12, that is, one day after the first phase of polling. Why the release has been preponed is anybody’s guess.

The film’s preponement suggests that the makers want to find more viewers before the elections begin. Can the biopic influence voters who haven’t made up their minds about the party they wish to vote for? Apparently not, since the official view is that it is not a propaganda film.

The trailer that has dropped recently tells a different story. Not for a moment does it seem that the film will take a deep dive and offer a balanced assessment of the PM. He is shown as a man from a humble ‘chaiwala’ background who loves his nation, is courageous and principled – and responds to Pakistan’s dubious intent with righteous anger and belligerence. It promises to be a jingoistic film made by Modi devotees that is capable of influencing gullible and uncertain voters, which India has in plenty.

Enough has been written about whether or not the release of this film violates the Election Commission’s model code of conduct. That the film – and also the web series – will be released and watched after the code of conduct has kicked in is the only fact that matters.

The rules haven’t been updated to include such possibilities is the lamentable bottom line, creating the possibility of thinly disguised transgressions.

There is no official announcement of yet another Modi biopic that actor-politician Paresh Rawal has been wanting to make. The Oberoi starrer will follow the release of films like Uri: The Surgical Strike, whose plot is based on the surgical strike carried out by the army during the NDA rule.

With a web series and a film on the way, BJP’s man of the moment will now show up as a character in theatres and on laptops. Is it just a coincidence? The Election Commission certainly seems to think so.

It can be said that, technically speaking, releasing the web series and the biopic during the election season does not violate the code of conduct. But, shouldn't the EC give the matter a serious thought and play a part in postponing their release until after the polling ends?

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Published: 22 Mar 2019, 2:04 PM