‘Main Atal Hoon’ sets out to explore the life and politics of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of India’s most renowned statesmen. However, the film falls short as an objective biopic, often choosing to glorify Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while vilifying the Indian National Congress (INC).
The film follows Vajpayee’s journey from his early days as an RSS worker to becoming Prime Minister during the momentous Kargil War. We see his charismatic speeches and key political victories, like the Pokhran nuclear tests. However, the narrative is largely one-sided, projecting the BJP as infallible heroes while the INC, especially Indira Gandhi, act as menacing villains. The film fails to dive deeper into Vajpayee’s personal motivations, relationships, doubts or even political defeats.
Veteran actor Pankaj Tripathi delivers an outstanding performance as Vajpayee, eloquently capturing his mannerisms, gravitas and gift of oration. However, the supporting cast is wasted, with most characters coming across as caricatures. The contrived screenplay relentlessly moves from one historical event to another, lacking nuance or intimate portrayals. Cinematography is serviceable but leans on clichés like spotlight effects during momentous speeches.
The film chooses to ignore or whitewash over controversial decisions like the Kandahar hijack response, Gujarat riots, attack on Parliament, to portray an unambiguously heroic image of Vajpayee. It reduces political discourse to simplistic binaries between BJP’s strong, patriotic leadership versus Congress’ effete administration, doing injustice to the complexity of modern Indian politics.
In the end, ‘Main Atal Hoon’ is a selectively curated propaganda piece masquerading as a biopic. For viewers unaware of Indian political history, it paints an skewed picture of Vajpayee’s legacy. The nuanced politician-poet portrayed in glowing tributes after his death in 2018 finds little room in this film. While Pankaj Tripathi is superb, the mediocre filmmaking reduces an eventful life to a political puff piece. Those seeking insight into Vajpayee’s fascinating dualities as a liberalizer and Hindutva icon will be disappointed.