The Accidental Prime Minister, Thackeray and now PM Narendra Modi. Hindi filmmakers have shown a noticeable interest in politics in 2019 — particularly biopics — which happens to be the year of Lok Sabha elections. While a film involving politics is expected to spark a debate due to its nature, director Omung Kumar’s biopic on prime minister Narendra Modi has drawn heavy criticism owing to its timing, with many demanding a ban on the film as it releases on April 5, a week before the country goes to the polls.
The criticism centres on the Election Commission’s (EC) model code of conduct that the opposition claims has been violated through the film. A Congress delegation on Tuesday met the EC seeking a ban on the film, saying that it is politically motivated and that releasing it just before the Lok Sabha election was a violation of model code of conduct.
“The purpose of this film is only political – to get some extra mileage in the elections. We believe, it is not just a corrupt practice, but the very launch of the film is motivated,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal told
“This is no artistic venture. It is a political venture and that is what we have told the Election Commission and should not be allowed. It does not allow for a level playing field.”
On the EC’s notice, seeking a reply from the makers of the film as it felt the biopic may have violated the model code of conduct, the producers denied having any political agenda behind the film.
"We have made the biopic
PM Narendra Modi as a film within the parameters of how Hindi films are made. It is not a propaganda film and as we have presented before the Election Commission, it does not violate the model code of conduct,” producer Anand Pandit told CNBC-TV18.com.
“Our appeal is that it should be seen as any other cinematic offering. Yes, it happens to be based on an inspiring political leader. But how can it be propaganda when people have to buy tickets to consume the content? As a producer and distributor, I felt the story was compelling and would be enjoyed by cinema-goers,” he added. However, the EC’s response is still awaited on the producers’ reply and it is up to the poll body now to decide on the fate of the film.
What is the model code of conduct?
The model code of conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the EC -- the authority that administrates elections -- for the conduct of political parties and candidates, mandatory to be followed by all to conduct a fair and smooth election.
Does PM Narendra Modi’s biopic violate the model code of conduct?
As of now, there are no guidelines framed by the EC with regards to the release of a film with political hues before or during elections. “If it is just a film which can be viewed by any individual in a theatre after buying a ticket, MCC is not attracted,” former chief election commissioner OP Rawat told
CNBC-TV18.com. However, he said the EC is better placed to judge this as he did not have any further details of the matter.
As per the EC’s guidelines, any person other than political parties or candidates campaigning in favour of or against certain political parties and candidates will be held responsible for violation of model code of conduct.
“At the time of a general election to the House of the People or to a state legislative assembly, Model Code applies throughout India or, as the case may be, the state concerned,” stated the EC’s manual on the model code of conduct. “Complaints are being received by the Commission from various quarters that some social, cultural or religious organisations, associations, formations etc., are making appeals to electors amounting to election campaign in favour of, or against, certain political parties or candidates, by holding congregations, yoga shivers, conclaves, meetings, processions, etc.,” it added.
This could give the EC ammunition to launch action against the filmmakers if it is proven that the film or a part of the content has been used to campaign in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party.What are the factors that could form the base for an argument that the film may have acted as a campaign?
Firstly, the title of the film. Modi being the most popular campaigner in the country, his name used as the title of the film releasing right before Lok Sabha elections could be appealing.
While it could be argued that the film is a biopic like various other projects undertaken by other directors in the past, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ presence at the launch of its first look could raise eyebrows with regards to the intention of the film ahead of the elections against the argument that the film has nothing to do with the BJP.
The notice issued to the filmmakers and two leading newspapers was with regards to an advertisement of the film. The poster has Vivek Oberoi depicting prime minister Modi with the tagline ‘Deskhbhakti hi meri shakti hai’ (serving nation is my strength). The EC has said that it may have violated the model code of conduct. While the producers have denied any links with the BJP, the EC is still analysing the matter and it is only after its reply, the next course of action will be undertaken.
Moreover, the trailer of the film was launched on March 20, 10 days after the EC announced the schedule of the elections, which again is a point of concern as the model code of conduct is effective from the time of the announcement of election schedule till the completion of election process. However, any action could be taken only if it is established that the film supports Modi or BJP.Even if the poll body decides on the fate of the film, the controversy is unlikely to end as the debate highlights the obscurity in the EC guidelines with regards to the content of movies releasing during elections.