The account plays out in skit-like episodes starting with Modi’s simple upbringing in Vadnagar to successful candidacy from Varanasi. These offer little new insight, and only reaffirm prevailing fables. He adores his mother and smiles nobly through chores like washing utensils and scrubbing toilets. Amid scenes of an austere and virtuous boyhood, the brief depiction of young Modi enjoying a film, Dev Anand’s Guide, stands out almost like a character flaw. But somehow this momentary excess leads him to leave home and journey for years. On a mountain, he realises he is built for the last out of three roles that fascinate him — soldier, saint and statesman.
The film imagines many Modis as he goes from being a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker to Bharatiya Janata Party leader. He plants flags in the snow in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, gatecrashes a conference and rains leaflets on Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, and physically lifts debris and injured children after the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat. He consoles Muslims following the 2002 communal riots in the state, the blame for which is attributed instead to other state governments led by the opposition who ignore Modi’s calls for help. The attempt to underplay the role of religion — Modi asks that the death toll be described in terms of “Gujaratis” rather than “Muslims” and “Hindus” — is particularly insidious.
Given its release was deferred, the film which could have been poll-season propaganda has diminished purpose. As Modi returns to power now, it might only confirm or intensify favourable views of the leader. In this version of history, lesser rivals within and outside BJP quickly fold their cards. A swift segment showing how he won over businessmen by fast-tracking industrialisation in his state provides some interest. However, this is followed by a finale, involving holograms and Modi masks, which is more dragged-out than thrilling.
Fittingly for a man who enjoys making grand statements, there is a punchline a minute, including, “Main Gujarat mein dhanda hone doonga, Gujarat ka dhanda nahi.”