Bollywood biopics to get political

India’s general election may be 11 months away, but already the groundwork for the political battle is being laid on the silver screen with several Bollywood biopics of leading political adversaries currently in the works.

Whichever party is in power often “sponsors” films that project it and its leaders favourably while denigrating its rivals ahead of elections.

By doing so they hope to influence a substantial number of more than 900 million eligible voters in a country with the world’s largest moviegoing audiences. In 2016, over 2.2 billion movie tickets were sold across India.

Three such films are due for release before the 2019 elections.

“These films will expose the truth about all these leaders and influence the voters,” said a senior MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who declined to be named.

The vote is set to be a battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP and the projected coalition led by the Congress Party.

The films being produced include The Accidental Prime Minister, depicting Congress Party’s Manmohan Singh’s chance elevation for a decade to the country’s top job in 2004; Indira, portraying Indira Gandhi’s 15 years as Indian premier; and an as-yet unnamed biopic on Modi. The film on Singh is based on an unflattering 2014 biography of the Oxbridge-educated PM by Sanjay Baru, his press adviser, and is slated for a December release.

Anupam Kher, 63, will portray Singh. The veteran Bollywood star is well known for his sympathies towards the BJP’s hardline Hindu nationalist agenda and his wife is a BJP MP.

The film on Gandhi is based on another critical biography, Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister, by journalist Sagarika Ghose.

Bollywood sources said it is widely expected to emphasise the assassinated Gandhi’s “dictatorial” streak by portraying the 19-month long internal emergency she imposed in 1975 after being indicted for electoral malpractices.

Gandhi will be played by Vidya Balan, 39, a BJP sympathiser who acquired the book rights for the film earlier this year, claiming she had always wanted to play Indira Gandhi.

“Such films that are focused on political leaders are force multipliers for parties ahead of elections” said Ghose.

These biopics reach a wider audience than books and tend to shape some voters thinking, she added.

However, Shubra Gupta, a film critic, said films on political personalities are “tricky” and “unpredictable” with regard to influencing voters. “It all depends of how the subject is handled by the filmmaker,” she said.