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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Vivek Oberoi on PM Narendra Modi & Doing Political Films

The PM Narendra Modi biopic has been a subject to many critiques and controversy.

Earlier, India’s election commission stopped the film’s release of a controversial film about the life of the prime minister on the eve of the first day of voting in the country’s nationwide elections.

Many opposition political parties was a hagiographic depiction of Modi’s life which was disguised political advertisement and should be banned until after the last phase of voting on 19 May.

The film will finally see the day of light. After much delay, it will be releasing in cinemas on 24th May – post the Lok Sabha elections in India.

It portrays different stages of the Indian leader’s life including his childhood as a chaiwala selling tea at railway stations, his time as a wandering sage in the Himalayas.

It also aims to highlight the years he spent disguised in a beard and turban as a fugitive during the 1975 emergency when India’s civil liberties were suspended.

Filme Shilmy spoke with the movie’s lead actor Vivek Oberoi to speak about his experience of working on the film.

PM Narendra Modi is finally releasing. You must be so relieved about it?

I’m not relieved, I’m excited!

We had screenings for some friends, influencers and people from our trade and the reactions have been really positive.

I can’t tell you how happy I am and how much I’m looking forward to releasing the film on the 24th.

What motivated you to do the role?

If I took you back in the 1960s and we travel by train across Gujarat.

Imagine the train stops at a small sleepy station and a little kid starts selling us tea.

If I told you that boy would become the Prime Minister of India one day, would you believe it?

It is so brilliant to see someone with no means, no political backing or last name to run for the general elections emerging as the nation’s leader.

Even though he is someone who was from the backward community in India, he never played the caste card.

Just purely on the merit and desire for doing something great for the nation, he achieved this glory of becoming the Prime Minister of this country.

He is the kind of PM that has filled every Indian with so much pride.

All of us have more pride in that blue passport in the last five years because we see him standing shoulder to shoulder with international leaders, not succumbing any kind of political bullying and tackling terrorism head-on.

He has evoked a lot of pride and courage in this country.

How did you prepare to play Modi ji? Was there ever pressure on you?

It was incredibly challenging, but I believe the greater challenges, greater the men.

I’m currently not great, but I want to be someday in my life. In order to be great, is to take tough challenges.

If the whole world thinks “you’re going to fail” or “How is Vivek ever going to look like Narendra Modi?” That was a challenge for me.

I remember we did this whole transformation process with Indian prosthetics and I sat on that chair for 7-8 hours. They put on all kinds of silicon and all kinds of stuff over my face (laughs).

In the end, I got up after a long wait and when I finally saw myself I thought “this is crap. We need to do it again!

In total, it took about 15 trials before we finally got it right and that was a commitment.

I remember when I got it right, Hrithik Roshan lives next door, so I showed him the poster to get his opinion.

I showed him the picture and he was shocked and surprised by the look! I was very happy by such reactions from my peers and colleagues.

Ultimately, transformation by prosthetics always work, but there is a certain strength that Modi ji has in his eyes.

Five or six months before the photo-shoot for the film, I adapted a full Satvik diet and followed this regiment of waking up at 4 in the morning doing yoga/pranayama and preparing to seize the day.

The first few days were very difficult, but it gave me a different perspective on life and that discipline helped a lot.

Mr Modi himself has faced a wide spectrum of life. How detailed will the biopic be?

I believe that every film has a perspective and the detail depends on what the movie is trying to convey.

Our take was one on of inspiration – about this kid who grows up in abject poverty, watching his mother having to wash dirty vessels in someone’s home at a village and not having the means to do anything.

Even in terms of aspiration, he never chased money. To me, these aspects the journey of this man.

Do two hours and 15 minutes do justice to the 16 decades of a man’s life? I don’t think so.

There’s no magician on earth who can do that especially with life like that of Modi ji’s. It was difficult to play all those parts and maintain everything.

But eventually, we are very happy with the way we’ve presented him.

The main aim is to inspire people. If you love India, you’re a deshbhakt and true patriot like myself, then you will like the film.

When choosing to do the film did you ever realise that you would face a political backlash?

I’m a person who has never believed in subscribing to fear. I believe nothing good comes from fear.

I believe that if there’s a mission and if somebody inspires me, then as an artist I want to express myself, I will go out there and do it.

Which is what I did in this film.

Sure seeing the upheaval made me upset and bothered me, but I know we worked hard in making the film.

It was harder to release the movie than it was making it.

It was ridiculous that people would tramp upon my democratic right to release the film. The court, delays after delays, I kept thinking – “what is it that they are scared of?”

I don’t know why people were so scared.

It was incredible to see multiple parties across India to just wake-up and many tried to run to the election commission to stop the film’s release.

The film has changed its release on numerous dates…

It was originally supposed to release before the elections, then pushed to the first day into the elections began and now after the election.

Today, the situation is as such that on 23rd May are the results of the Lok Sabha elections. On 24th PM Narendra Modi is truly coming back as our film releases on that day.

I think the film is going to be a celebration of the return of a great man who has done phenomenally for his country and we wish 5 or 10 more years at least to transform India.

Do you feel the backlash was justified and how did you deal with it?

I’d say that the other political parties were perhaps scared and insecure.

I think that they’re already looking down the barrel as far as their politics of hate and division is concerned. They’ve done that for far too long.

Now here comes a man who is talking and acting on development. Here’s a man who is talking about the emergence of a new India.

That scares them because they like the status quo and want it to be just the way it was so that they can keep winning the way they did.

You played a negative political character in Malayalam film Lucifer and now a positive one. How do you adapt to these different roles as an actor?

I must give credit to the people who create the characters and roles.

As an actor, the ability to be able to switch from one character to another is what excites me.

To play Bobby in Lucifer and then to play PM Narendra Modi, this is what really excites me.

Luckily for me, these characters never get stuck in my head.

I’m very fortunate to have a safe haven – which is my home. My family, kids, father and NGO where I interact with a lot of children who inspire me and give me love.

So I think all of those aspects are my gateway to reality and they anchor me so beautifully that the fictitious world does not affect me.

Be it Yuva, Rakht Charitra and now this, you’ve done a few Political films. What attracts you towards this genre?

I think it’s just the roles. The roles have been spectacular and that’s what got me excited.

To dig me deep into the character and bring it alive on-screen is what gets me most excited as an actor.

Finally, you’ve entered the South Indian cinema. How is this going for you so far?

Just like food, I love it! (laughs)

I love South Indian cinema. I think it’s fantastic and has a masala and style of its own.

I have really enjoyed doing films in every of the four South-Indian languages – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. It was a challenge I set myself.

It taught me a lot as an actor.

PM Narendra Modi is directed by Omung Kumar – of Mary Kom and Sarbjit fame.

It releases in the UK on 24th May and is distributed by Rising Star Entertainment.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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