How does one write a biopic of one of the world’s most popular and controversial leaders with a balanced perspective? How do you write the journey of a man born in 1950, and still make it relevant and contemporary for today? Just some of the conundrums for Anirudh Chawla – the co-screenplay and co-dialogue writer of the film in the headlines currently for various controversies – ‘PM Narendra Modi’. The film has been attracting controversies like honey does flies, and who better than one of the screenwriters of the film to share the journey of this roller-coaster. For Anirudh, one of his biggest challenges was that he was writing the first film in the history of cinema on a currently serving leader of a nation. He could not afford to get the facts wrong, and as Narendra Modi evokes extreme, polarised reactions from the country‘s citizens, he had to balance both points of view, so as to not be accused of writing a propaganda film for the BJP and Narendra Modi. And of course, one can’t miss the timing of the film, originally slated to release on the first day of elections,11 April, before its release was temporarily blocked by the election commission. It will now release on Friday, May 24th.
But before all this, let’s go back to the beginning of this remarkable story – when Anirudh was hosting a popular radio show on 92.7 Big FM and was invited to write for another project by producer Sandip Ssingh. When Anirudh submitted the first draft of that film in just 5 days, Sandip was stunned by Anirudh ‘s speed of writing and asked him to consider another subject that was the dream project of Sandip, the biopic of the Prime Minister of India. Little did Ssingh know that Anirudh was a crazy fan of Narendra Modi, who felt as if he had just been handed the holy grail!
In his own words —
“I felt as if I was born to write this film. I was never interested in politics till the year 2012 when I started following Narendra Modi on social media and in the press. After doing extensive research on him, I realised what remarkable things he had been doing in Gujarat for the last 11 years.
I give him full credit for my obsession with politics today – not just me, he made a lot of Indians begin to take interest in the political. economic and cultural affairs of the country. And yes, with time, I became obsessed with Modi, to the extent that I consider him as my adopted dad, now that my own dad is no more! Little did I know that I would one day write his biopic, which people had been trying to make for years and never succeeded!
I believed that this man can change the destiny of this country … and that’s why I have that line in the film—”Is desh ki kismet badalni hai to pehle apne bhagya ka saamna karna padega” – which exemplifies the ‘Agni pareekshas’ i.e trials by fire, that Modi has gone through in his quest to change the destiny of India.
Even in 2012, I had this strong instinct that this man will be PM of India when there was so much negative coverage about him in the media, which hated him – but then when he won, I felt vindicated.
How it all started: During the madness of the 2014 elections, I went and obsessively bought all the literature available on him and kept it in a trunk, and then forgot all about it. After our early conversations, when I was actually asked to write the screenplay of the film, I realised that there was very little known about him … that he had given very few interviews, and as he grew up in an age where there was no Google, very little material was available on his early life. I went right home, searched all over the house till I found that book, which was no more in circulation — safe and snug in my magic trunk!!
The story I was looking for: The funny thing is that I had bought the book in 2014, but had never read it. That day, I read the 400-page book in 24 hours and was blown away. I recognised what the true story of our film should be—the incredible journey of a man from ‘chaiwala‘ to Prime Minister.
The challenge: It was hugely challenging to compress 57 years of his life from the age of 7 to 64, in just 2 hours … You will be shocked to know that my first screenplay draft was 6 hours long.
The research: I had to watch almost 200 hours of footage of Modi – right from his election rallies in the last 10 years to his interviews to archival footage on YouTube. I ended up reading 12 books on him, his life and his philosophy, hearing almost 50 hours of his radio talk, Mann Ki Baat … It was a very complex process, because there were multiple versions of the same incidents.
How much cinematic liberty could I take as a writer? Which perspective ought I choose? Would I appear biased against him, or would the film seem like his propaganda? How would I dramatise an event like the 1975 Emergency, and yet keep it realistic? As it is there was no record of what Modi said 40 years ago, so how would I write dialogues for him, keeping in mind his personality as we know it now?
The authenticity: I had to keep every book, article, video and audio reference ready to provide as authentication and proof to the censor board in the future, to be able to prove that Modi actually said this in a rally or interview, because so much said by Modi could be sensitive in the current political and social environment.
The writing process: In the middle of all this, I had to capture the spirit of Modi in my dialogues. So for example, we all know how tough he is on terrorism, and also his extreme patriotism for the country. For that I had to think of a really explosive line to show his tough attitude on terrorism, even at the age of 40 – much before he became even chief minister—and so I wrote for one scene “Desh ke har kone mein ye tiranga lehrayega. Hindustan aatank SE nahi, aatank Hindustan SE daregaa.”
I also wanted to retain his terrific sense of humour in his speeches and dialogues, so I sat down to make a list of all the alliterations and wordplay that he is fond of using in his speeches, like the 3 Ds — Democracy, Demography and Demand; ‘Zero effect, Zero defect’; Majboor Sarkar vs Mazboot Sarkar – which I have used in the popular dialogue in the trailer. “Jab tak Hindustan ki mahilayen majboor hain, yeh desh kabhi mazboot nahi ho sakta.”
Thanks to Modi ji, my Hindi has actually improved a million times over. I now know the meaning of words like—’shramev jayate’ (labor triumphs), ‘aadharit sanrachna’ (infrastructure), ‘sanshodhan’ (amendment) and ‘pratyaksha hastaantarit laabh’ (direct transfer benefit)…
Collaborating with Vivek Oberoi: My collaboration with Vivek on the screenplay and dialogues was terrific, as he has a really sharp mind, a huge knowledge of politics, and knows Modi ji personally too. He taught me to condense my thoughts and make each scene sharp and crisp, and to use the most effective words for a given situation. For example, when I wrote the dialogue – Chetavni deta hoon Pakistan ko… agar dobarah humpe haath uthaya to haath kaat dunga…tumne hamara balidan dekha hai, ab humara bal bhi dekhoge... He suggested we use the word ‘badla‘ instead of ‘bal’, which was more explosive, and also in keeping with the national sentiment after the Pulwama attack on our jawans…Now that dialogue has become the most talked about highlight of our trailer.
Filming it within 38 days: To shoot the entire film in just 38 days is a remarkable achievement for the team – from the snow capped mountains of Uttarakhand to the ghats of Banaras to the desert of Gujarat to Mumbai city. Vivek, Omung and I had to stay synced, as they travelled all over India, even when there was no WiFi in the mountains. We had to be able to have every dialogue and scene in place before they shot in such extreme conditions.
From its inception to its shoot, to its subsequent controversies, and attempts by various political forces to stop the film releasing … its journey with the censors to the high court, Supreme Court, television studio debates, social media wars, and now the temporary blocking of release by election Commission … I feel as if my team and I have lived Modi’s tumultuous life in the last 6 months … but at the end of it, we truly believe in the philosophy—’Modi hai to mumkin hai’ . We strongly believe that our film shall release. Modi gives me that confidence. … And yes, I am a ‘bhakt‘ … and not embarrassed to confess it!
My greatest wish — ….to be able to interview Narendra Modi on my radio show one day!
Advice to writers before signing off: Be patient. Find the right collaborators who believe in your passion, and be informed about your rights. Always protect your content by registering it with a strong writers’ body like the ScreenWriters Association of India.”
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