‘Main Atal Hoon’: Timely but straightforward biopic of a beloved leader


FILM Review

(Rating: **1/2)

Mumbai, Jan 19: Politics and actors have always had a deep-rooted connection, so it is hardly surprising that irrespective of his or her political affiliation, an actor does not let an opportunity to essay the role of a popular leader pass by. Especially if the subject is the late former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Directed by Ravi Jadhav, ‘Main Atal Hoon’ is a biographical drama that follows the life and political career of Vajpayee, a beloved mass leader who was not only a politician, but also a poet, a gentleman, and as the film suggests, “a statesman”.

Highlighting Vajpayee’s role in shepherding India during some of its most challenging times, including the Kargil War with Pakistan and the Pokhran nuclear tests, the 137-minute film attempts to explore the man behind the politician, revealing his personal struggles and relationships with family and friends, as well as his love for poetry and literature.

‘Main Atal Hoon’ has been released, perhaps coincidentally, at a time when the attention of the nation is transfixed on the January 22 Pran Pratishtha ceremony for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Also, with general elections not far away, the timing of the film’s release could not have been more opportune.

The film, though, focuses entirely on Vajpyeee’s personal achievements, taken straight out of contemporary headlines, while also highlighting his invaluable personality and the choices he made.

There’s very little in the film about Vajpayee’s political ideology or the political events he was associated with. Even his leaders and compatriots, such as Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Lal Krishna Advani, stay in the background.

But all is not a blur. As a stirring tribute to one of India’s most beloved leaders, who is remembered not only for his political acumen but also for his kindness, integrity, and unwavering commitment to serving his country, the film is well made too. Vajpayee has left behind a legacy that continues to inspire and guide India’s political leaders to this day, and this fact is suitably underlined throughout. The narrative gives us a strong sense of his affable personality and his strengths, and suggests that his political machinations were only incidental, and absolves him of any wrongdoing.

But then, as a tell-all psycho-biography, it is primarily a character sketch. In one scene, as he is seen entering Parliament, he finds the portrait of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was missing. It had been removed by the Parliament House staff because of the new political dispensation in New Delhi. Vajpyee, however, is quick to instruct the relevant people to put the picture back — an act of large-heartedness that is difficult to come by in this age of fractious politics.

As the actor who plays the lead role, Tripathi is perfectly cast and his portrayal is superbly acted that never borders on the caricature, and thus, denies the temptation of scandal. By focusing on Vajpayee’s inner, political and familial turmoils while keeping up appearances, he gets his act right, and so do the other actors, though they remain in the periphery.

And so, the extraordinary life and political journey of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom many critics said was an iconic figure in Indian politics but in the wrong party, delves into his multifaceted persona — poet, gentleman and prime minister.

In the film, Vajpayee’s poetry is used liberally to good effect. Towards the end, when credits roll, one of his timeless poems, Hindu tan man…, makes the audience stand up to listen in as Vajpayee’s voice resonate in the theatre.

One last thing: To hail Vajpayee as a statesman, as the film does, may seem like an overstatement. The schoolbook depiction and interpretation of his life leaves us with many questions about him, none of which get answered.

Writer-director Ravi Jadhav and co-writer Rishi Virmani are clearly huge fans of their subject, and would not like to digress from their straitlaced agenda of eulogising the former prime minister and putting him on a pedestal. What they miss is adding some heft to their flattering script and fleshing their lead with some strength.

If the present dispensation hopes that this film would serve as propaganda to further its cause, it has nothing to suggest that it is about ‘them’. It is all about a time and a group of leaders that seem to belong to a distant past.

Film: Main Hoon Atal Duration: 137 minutes

Director: Ravi Jadhav Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Piyush Mishra and Raja Sewak

Cinematography: Lawrence D’Cunha Music: Payal Dev, Kailash Kher, Amitraj and Salim-Sulaiman Background Score: Monty Sharma