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'Politics has always been close to Bollywood'

January 11, 2019 09:38 IST

'People, who are objecting to the movie now, should have objected in 2014 when the book came out. But nobody did.'

IMAGE: Director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, left, with Producer Sunil Bohra, Akshaye Khanna and Anupam Kher. Photograph: Kind courtesy Anupam Kher/Instagram

Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's directorial debut The Accidental Prime Minister has spiraled into a controversy.

The movie, which documents Manmohan Singh's prime ministerial term between 2004 and 2014, has been facing opposition from Congress leaders since the trailer came out. The protests have subsided after Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the film should be released and his party would do nothing to supress its content.

Gutte claims The Accidental Prime Minister is not a political film. "It is a film for people who want to laugh and smile," he tells Contributor Mohnish Singh.

What is The Accidental Prime Minister about?

It looks at the relationship between Sanjaya Baru (Then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh's media advisor between 2004 and 2008 and the author of The Accidental Prime Minister, on which the film is based) and Manmohan Singhji, through the eyes of the former.

It is a fast-paced movie.

The most challenging part was its casting.

The post-production work was also tough because we did not shoot in real locations. We did not get to shoot in the Lok Sabha as we did not get permission.

So we had to create everything with the help of VFX.

IMAGE: Anupam Kher as Dr Singh in The Accidental Prime Minister.

Did you change the names of the political figures in your film?

Every character's name has been retained because the film is based on a book, and the book had their real names.

The book has been in the public domain for the past four years.

When the book released, its content was discussed on every news channel in detail.

So everything in my film is true to the book.

I have also taken the liberty to use material available in the public domain.

You mentioned the casting has been challenging.

The casting took eight months or so. Our creative producer Hansal Mehta has spies all over the world, and he is a very patient guy.

He gave us five choices for Atal Bihari Vajpayee's character!

But I was not satisfied with them.

By the time the sixth choice came, there were only three days left for the shoot, so I decided to settle.

But he came and said no.

He said if you do not like this actor, I will arrange someone, but do not compromise.

IMAGE: Akshaye Khanna as Dr Sanjaya Baru in The Accidental Prime Minister.

Which actor was the toughest to cast?

Akshaye Khanna is a very intelligent person, so he was the toughest to get on board.

He asks difficult questions. But if you give a direct answer, he is convinced.

We had seven meetings with Akshaye before he came on board.

He is a very expressionless person. When we were giving the narration, there were no expressions on his face.

By the end of the day, our energy was also down.

We thought he would say no.

But he got up, asked for a minute and went to the washroom. When he returned, he said that's a brilliant script and I am doing it.

He has been one of my favourite actors.

What is your real intention behind making this film?

A new director cannot tell you the intention behind his film because it is quite difficult to get the right script, a producer and actors.

When the book came out, it caused quite a commotion.

I liked the book and, as a political film, it had a lot going on.

Adapting a book into a film is not easy, as there are a lot of restrictions. You cannot change anything in a book, especially if it is a political one. We have to be very precise in what we show.

But it's not a political film, it's a humorous film.

An entertaining film.

It is a film for people who want to laugh and smile.


IMAGE: Anupam Kher as Dr Singh interacts with Arjun Mathur as Rahul Gandhi and Aahana Kumra as Priyanka Gandhi.

Why did you choose to direct a political film?

I cannot make a serious film. That is not cinema for me.

For me, cinema is Raju Hirani.

When I can cry and laugh at the same time, that is cinema for me. A subject like Munna Bhai MBBS is not an easy subject to make.

It is a serious subject, but Hirani gave it such a unique treatment.

There is an energy in these films that keeps you alive, makes you think that you are capable of something good.

I tried to find an easier film to start with, but first-time directors do not have too many options.

Whatever they get, they have to accept and work hard to deliver the best outcome.

IMAGE: Divya Seth Shah plays Gursharan Kaur, Dr Singh's elegant and supportive wife.

Your film has been facing trouble ever since its trailer came out.

I have been kept away from these issues.

I am only concentrating on the film.

People believe that I knew the movie would be controversial, but that is not true.

People, who are objecting to the movie now, should have objected in 2014 when the book came out. But nobody did.

If somebody had filed a case against that book after its release, why would a producer buy its rights? Why would he make a film out of it?

There was no opposition even when the first poster came out.

Did you meet Sanjaya Baru before you started working on the film?

Sanjaya Baru played the biggest part in convincing me to helm this project.

Earlier, I said no to the movie.

I did not want to make a political film.

I wanted to make a commercial film, a humorous film.

When I heard the subject, I did not know how to go with it.

Then I read the book and loved it.

The idea came from (producer) Sunil Bohra. He had brought the rights of the book two years ago. He told me to read the book and when I did, I felt connected.

So I asked if I could meet the author, and a meeting was arranged.

I was with Baru for a week, talking to him for four, five hours every day.

He gave me that aura which I really wanted in the film.

The talks were so powerful.

I connected with the book through Sanjaya Baru's eyes.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Anupam Kher/Instagram

There are so many political films up for release. After The Accidental Prime Minister, Thackeray is coming up for release.

Politics has always been close to Bollywood because that is where the inspiration is drawn from.

A number of movies, though they don't use real names, are inspired from political incidents in India. It has always been there.

It is just that this one is direct.

We are using the real names and drawing inspiration from a public domain.

You faced a legal issue regarding GST fraud of around Rs 34 crore. Has that been resolved?

The directorate general of goods and services tax intelligence had some misunderstanding. There was a person from a firm called Horizon Company who was working with us and other companies for three years.

He held the position of a vendor manager.

We gave our money to him, which he did not use to pay GST.

He gave us fake bills.

I have paid around Rs 110 crore in taxes over nine years.

There has been no case against me for the past nine years. My company never cheated on tax even for Re 1.

When this happened, I was in London.

As soon as I heard about the issue, I flew back and supported the department.

The problem escalated because I was not available and the guy who had defrauded had run away.

During this confusion, I was suspected as well, but as soon as they looked through my profile, they knew I did not play any part in it.

We have been cooperating with the department in every way possible.

This was very unfortunate, but I think the government is doing an excellent job by nabbing defaulters.

Mohnish Singh