Out this April, two dewy eyed biopics of the two most prominent political personalities of our times. PM Narendra Modi, starring a prosthetically nuanced Vivek Oberoi, will be released on April 5, a week earlier than planned. Audiences can also catch My Name is RaGa, based on the life of the Congress president, at movie theatres.
The only glitch is that the country starts voting for the general elections on April 11. The Election Commission’s model code of conduct has been in place for weeks now. According to Section 126 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, in the 48 hours that precede polling in a particular area, no one can hold public meetings, display “election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus” or arrange concerts, theatrical performances and other entertainment that “propagates election matter”.
Perhaps it is time the Election Commission also looked into the matter of political propaganda masquerading as Bollywood films, although RaGa director Rupesh Paul appears to be more active in “international cinema” and Mollywood, the Malayalam film industry.
There are biopics and there are biopics, of course. Last year’s Vice, for instance, portrayed former United States Vice President Dick Cheney as a brutal, deliberate political beast, though some reviewers argued it was not nearly scary enough. It is safe to say the April releases will be kinder to their subjects. The production for the Modi biopic was launched with the blessing of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. Oberoi as Modi smiles beatifically out of a tricolour themed poster, printed with the tagline “My love for my country is my strength.” Meanwhile, in the trailer of the Rahul Gandhi biopic, a woman tells the Congress leader she loves him because he had taught his haters to accept him. RaGa winks his famous wink.
Not all biopics are fawning. Perhaps audiences returning from a matinee show of PM Narendra Modi can catch The Accidental Prime Minister on television. A scathing look at the Manmohan Singh years, released just months before the election, the film was promoted and defended by the BJP.
As the election progresses, these films could be screened in theatres and television channels across the country. They could be streamed online or promoted on social media networks, including in constituencies going to polls within 48 hours. The model code of conduct was drafted when elections campaigns were truly local, largely restricted to public meetings and pamphlets. In a hyper-connected world, it is hard to isolate areas for the quiet contemplation of political choices before polls are conducted.
The Election Commission is already trying to grapple with the technological challenges to the model code of conduct. But before that, it must recognise the April releases for what they are: films which propagate election matter as entertainment.