"Propaganda" Biopic on Indian Prime Minister Sparks Controversy Ahead of Elections

Narendra Modi - Getty - H 2019
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Opposition political parties have slammed 'PM Narendra Modi: Story of a Billion People' and petitioned election officials to delay its release until after the polls close.

An upcoming biopic on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has run into a storm of controversy ahead of the country's general elections, which will be held Apr. 11-May 19.

PM Narendra Modi: Story of a Billion People stars Bollywood actor Vivek Anand Oberoi essaying Modi, from his formative years as a tea seller to becoming chief minister of his home state of Gujarat and, ultimately, leader of the world's largest democracy, when he led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a landslide victory in the 2014 elections. 

Since the film's trailer was unveiled a week ago ahead of its scheduled April 5 release, it has been viewed over 20 million times and puts a positive spin on the Indian leader's life story. But the film has been roundly criticized for being a propaganda vehicle for Modi to juice his election campaign. A senior member of the main opposition Congress party and former minister Kapil Sibal said the film "is no artistic venture. It is a political venture and that is what we have told the Election Commission and should not be allowed."

India's Congress has demanded in its petition that the film's release be delayed until after the elections. An official was quoted stating Wednesday that the Election Commission would issue a notice to the film's producers seeking their comments on delaying the release.

The film is directed by Omung Kumar, whose credits include 2014's well-received sports biopic Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra, which was based on India's record-breaking female boxing champion.

Along with accusations of propaganda, the film generated another controversy when its poster included the names of respected veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar and Sameer penning songs for the soundtrack. Akhtar tweeted that he was "shocked" to find his name in the credits, stating that he had not written any songs for the film.

The biopic isn't the only Modi-related entertainment release ginning up controversy as India heads to the polls; a digital series is also scheduled to bow on ErosNow. Bollywood filmmaker Umesh Shukla's Modi: Journey of a Common Man is a 10-part series, which, according to a statement, will “highlight many important incidents that made Modi devote his life for the service of the country."

The buildup to the elections has seen another film attempting to cash in on the charged political climate. The Accidental Prime Minister, which released this January, starred veteran actor Anupam Kher (whose recent international credits include Hotel Mumbai and medical drama New Amsterdam) playing the role of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The film was based on the book of the same title by Sanjaya Barua, Singh's media adviser during the former prime minister's tenure from 2004 to 2014 under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Critics dismissed the film as blatant propaganda for its unflattering portrayal of Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. The film was a critical and commercial disappointment.