In the midst of all the bad press for Narendra Modi’s government, here is something that will make his handlers most happy.
In October 2016, Vibha and Bharat, a couple from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, got a phone call from Modi at around 10pm. The Prime Minister was calling to suggest a name for the couple’s new-born girl. The name he came up with: Vaibhavi. Vibha had previously written to the Prime Minister’s Office requesting him to name her child.
The incident was widely reported at the time as proof of Modi’s direct access to the citizenry, and has now been turned into a short film by information technology executive-turned-writer Neha Sharma. Vaibhavi will first do the rounds in the festival circuit and then be released in India.
“When I read about it, it just felt sublime, I wanted to have a conversation with the couple to know more about why they had such a request,” Sharma said. “Vibha comes from a very modest background and is a woman filled with simple desires. She told me that one afternoon, she was listening to the Prime Minister’s radio programme Man Ki Baat. He was speaking about the empowerment of women, and there was a portion in his speech that resonated with Vibha’s own life, especially her views on feminism and womanhood. She decided that she would write to him and ask him to name her child whom she was desperately hoping would be a girl.”
After a couple of phone conversations with the couple, Sharma set out to make her short film, also titled Vaibhavi. The voice over the phone purporting to be the Prime Minister actually belongs to a dubbing artist who was recruited after a month-long search. “As for the actors, there were a few who were hesitant and said that this may not echo with their own personal or political views,” Sharma said.
Vaibhavi is more about Vibha than a plug for Modi, Sharma asserted. “Vaibhavi is a celebration of life, it is about the innocence of a woman who is trying to reach the Prime Minister,” she said. “He is indeed a hero because if he didn’t fulfill her desire, it would have just remained what it is. Her curiosity would have remained just a ticking bomb that wouldn’t have exploded at all.”
Why does Sharma think a woman like Vibha idolises Modi?
“From my conversations with Vibha, I realised that here is an example of a selfless and unconditional sort of admiration for a public figure,” Sharma said. “While she is happy where she is, she is also thrilled that there are so many women setting out to achieve their dreams. Her thoughts found resonance in the radio show. Vibha wants Vaibhavi to be an Olympian.”
Sharma remains a fan of Modi even though several of his early supporters are now undergoing a severe case of buyer’s remorse after his silence on the relentless attacks on Muslims by cow protection vigilantes.
“He is the Prime Minister and is bound to be surrounded by controversies,” Sharma said. “My reasons may not be the same as Vibha but when the campaign for the 2014 elections was going on, he definitely came across as someone extremely promising. Considering there is so much that needs to change in India, at least someone is holding the bull by the horn and trying to change things.”
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