In Subhash Kapoor’s Madam Chief Minister, Richa Chadha plays a Dalit politician from Uttar Pradesh with short hair and a purposeful, shoulder-forward stride. Any similarity between Chadha’s character Tara and that other short-haired Bahujan Samaj Party leader, who made ground-breaking strides in Dalit politics in the 1990s, is purely coincidental.
Madam Chief Minister takes a typically cynical, cliche-ridden view of the importance of electoral victory in changing a community’s fortunes. Dalit assertion and empowerment are footnotes in what is actually a conspiracy thriller revolving around murder and revenge. As a college student, Tara drives a motorbike and prefers androgynous dressing, but her entry into politics and caste consciousness are sparked by rejection in love.
Emotionally and physically wounded by her upper-caste boyfriend Indumohan (Akshay Oberoi), Tara becomes an acolyte of mass leader Surajbhan (Saurabh Shukla). Tara goes from serving tea to Surajbhan’s guests to being touted as the most serious contender for Uttar Pradesh’s chief ministership.
Seemingly overnight, Tara becomes the disruptor of her rivals’ plans. Her rise sets off alarm bells, best captured by the reaction of Indumohan’s father to the news that Tara is threatening Indumohan’s career prospects. Why can’t we just shoot her like we used to in the past, the patriarch wonders.
Of course, Tara doesn’t have it easy even after becoming chief minister. If one set of men was responsible for her ascent, another bunch of men ensures that her fate hangs in balance. Rivals within the coalition that has brought Tara to power keep her busy, while Indumohan resurfaces as a reminder of past. With the support of her aide Danish (Manav Kaul), Tara channels her inner rowdy to vanquish her rivals, even picking up a gun and getting her hands bloodied when required.
Despite a committed performance by Richa Chadha and efficient turns by Saurabh Shukla and Manav Kaul, the 124-minute movie struggles to be taken seriously. Madam Chief Minister is about as sophisticated as a college play. The complexity of identity politics is reduced to palace intrigue. The monumentality of Tara’s achievement gets buried below the corpses that she helps pile up.
The references to the historically disenfranchised community from which Tara hails turns out to be a gimmick. Tara is no better or worse than the people who abuse her caste, invoking that other great cliche of movies of this type: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thanks, but no thanks.