“I busted a lot of their myths about Mr. Modi that night,” Oberoi subsequently told the Washington Post. “I also countered many of their traditional notions about secularism.”
Five years later, in the summer of 2019, Oberoi has become Modi —essaying the role of the Prime Minister in a hagiographic biopic that is so naked a pitch for Modi’s re-election that on April 10 2019, the Election Commission of India decreed that its release would violate India’s election laws.
The Commission’s decision came a day before the film was due to hit cinemas and a day after the Supreme Court had refused to prevent the film’s screening.
Nonetheless, the brouhaha around the movie’s non-release has meant India has seen far more of Oberoi in the past week than in the decade-and-a-half since that press conference back in 2003 (but more on that later). Even the manner in which the film was almost released, and then not, seems cut from the so-close-yet-so-far arc of Oberoi’s film career.
For much of the last fortnight, while the film’s fate was still up in the air, Oberoi revelled in his re-discovered relevance, traded zingers with news anchors and mugged smugly for cameras. Yet, beneath the well-tailored suits and well-crafted PR messaging, it wasn’t hard to see why Oberoi has been inexorably drawn to the privileged-but-persecuted persona peculiar to Modi and his followers.
“Whether it is Godhra riots or the SIT investigations, when someone has risen, for me, it’s how this guy went through all these experiences,” Oberoi told HuffPost India, explaining why he was drawn to make this film. “Without picking on a caste base, or playing on a family name, or being funded by somebody behind him, Modi achieved his political gains purely on merit and hard work.”
Forget the psephologists hectoring us...