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The silver screen is the new election battleground in India

By Ananya Bhattacharya

The election commission of India’s move to block the release of a biopic on prime minister Narendra Modi has put the spotlight on a bevy of political movies released in recent months and others in the pipeline.

PM Narendra Modi, with Vivek Oberoi playing the titular character, sought to put Modi in positive light to influence voters, some critics said. Set for release on April 11—the day of the first round of polling in the country—the movie has now been blocked until the elections are over.

The poll panel has said that the movie would violate the model code of conduct (MCC). From March 10, when the election schedule was announced, to May 23, the counting day, the MCC requires that media—print, television, or film—is not used to manipulate voters.

Though cinema does not directly count as advertising or propaganda, the ECI called it “surrogate publicity.”

It’s not uncommon for content to be blocked during an election period. When actor Amitabh Bachchan contested the Allahabad seat in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1984, the channel Doordarshan reportedly stopped airing his films for a short period. When actress Hema Malini was running from Mathura, her ad for detergent brand Nirma was taken off TV.

Besides Modi’s, two other political biopics have also been blocked this time by the election commission: One of them is Ram Gopal Verma’s NTR Laxmi, a movie on the late Telugu matinee idol and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, NT Rama Rao. The movie was released on March 28 but screening has now been halted. The third film stalled is Udyama Simham, a biopic of K Chandrashekar Rao, chief minister of the southern state of Telangana.

These movies “either diminish or advance the electoral prospect of a candidate or a political party in the garb of creative freedom,” the election commission said.

Meanwhile, in the run up to the polls, India has seen several political movies being released, while some are still in the works:

(Key: Released ✅, Stalled 🛑, Upcoming 👉)

  • The Accidental Prime Minister (January 2019) is about the Congress’s Manmohan Singh, who was prime minister for 10 years before Modi came into power. Singh was portrayed by Anupam Kher, an ardent BJP supporter whose spouse is also a member of parliament of the party
  • Uri (January 2019) is based on the surgical strike against Pakistan in September 2016. Modi has not only applauded the film but also quoted lines from it in speeches
  • Thackeray (January 2019) is a Hindi-Marathi film with actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui portraying Bal Thackeray, founder of the Marathi nationalist political party, Shiv Sena
  • Yatra (February 2019) is a Telugu-language film based on the life of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress party member who served as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh from May 2004 to June 2009
  • ✅🛑NTR Laxmi was released on March 28 and then pulled
  • 🛑 PM Narendra Modi
  • 🛑 Udyama Simham
  • 👉Vidya Balan is set to star in yet another biopic based on Sagarika Ghose’s book Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister
  • 👉Ram Gopal Verma has also announced his next project, which will revolve around Sasikala, a confidante to late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa.