Main Atal Hoon Review: Pankaj Tripathi’s Performance of a Single Note-Biography Rescued a Touch

Whether it is a biopic of a historical figure or a personality of contemporary relevance, the Mumbai film industry hardly, if ever, does them credit. That commonly believed opinion is not much altered by Main Atal Hoon, which is directed and co-written by National Award-winning filmmaker Ravi Jadhav (Natarang, Balgandharva, Balak Palak).

Main Atal Hoon is if not a disastrous attempt devoid of any redeeming qualities, but at least a hurried production with wrinkles that might have been avoided. It is obvious that the rush to finish it on time has affected both the writing and the creation. Jadhav is renowned for being a meticulous director. The notable lack of the attribute in Main Atal Hoon is apparent.

Main Atal Hoon, which tells the life biography of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the tenth Prime Minister of India and a luminary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is more hagiography than praise. It takes the reader from birth to death. That being said, the film’s uneven quality does not cover the entirety of the right-wing leader’s formative years and turbulent political career.

It paints a picture meant to inspire awe and reverence by presenting bits of this and bits of that as it darts from one high point to another. This approach fails as a drama or a film because any turmoil in the story is purposefully kept to a minimum to highlight how unflappable and unwavering (the emphasis being on the leader’s given name, ‘Atal’) Vajpayee was.

The Main Atal Hoon fails to paint a truly dramatic picture of a statesman and orator who experienced many ups and downs, ebbs and tides during a long journey through the tumult of the freedom struggle, the vicissitudes of nation-building, and the difficulties of party work. Instead, it highlights aspects of Vajpayee’s life and times that serve the demands of the current political climate.

Pankaj Tripathi’s pivotal performance saves Main Atal Hoon, a monochromatic biography, just a tad. The actor doesn’t hold back when it comes to channeling Vajpayee’s body language and speech pattern.

Tripathi’s attempts do not provide the desired results since the performance is hampered by a storyline that lacks genuine insight and inventiveness. Combining political savvy, communication skills, and empathy would have paid off much more if Jadhav and co-writer Rishi Virmani had concentrated more on the problems Vajpayee had to address than on the solutions he came up with.

With the only goal of showcasing the actions that the real-life protagonist carried out as a politician and prime minister, Main Atal Hoon veers off topic. Beyond the narrow scope of this film are the complexity of subcontinental politics and the subtleties of ideological battle both inside and outside of Parliament.

It makes do with reductionist and basic approaches that eliminate any sharp edges. The story makes mention of Vajpayee’s efforts to promote goodwill between Pakistan and India as well as his bus ride from Delhi to Lahore for a summit. But in a movie meant to spread a certain viewpoint, his peacenik image is reduced to a simple afterthought.

The reference to the Kargil triumph, which is now commemorated as Kargil Vijay Diwas, would have meant more in this movie if it had also included, if just briefly, the intelligence failure that resulted in the border battle and the deaths it caused.

Although Pankaj Tripathi’s choice for the politician’s role is far from ideal in terms of physical realism, the actor does a fairly good job of handling the authenticity debate within the constraints placed on him by the writers’ conception of the part.

Inspired on a Marathi novel, Main Atal Hoon literally portrays Vajpayee as a politician and poet with exceptional oratory skills, drawing inspiration from Sarang Darshane’s Atalji: Kavihridayache Rashtranetyachi Charitkahani (The Story of a Poet-Leader). The lead actor does a very good job of bringing forth the latter persona.

If the film’s creators hadn’t been so blindly guided by the book’s title and had instead dared to capitalize on the notion that a politician with a poet’s temperament—someone who loved Hindi as a child and eventually became an expert in it—would Main Atal Hoon have been a very different picture? Without a doubt, that would have resulted in a more satisfying movie. However, such would not have fulfilled the project’s stated goal.

The film, which focuses primarily on Vajpayee’s political affiliations and personal associations, omits many important details and nuances that could have contributed to a more nuanced, thoughtful, and objective portrayal of the subject than the uncritical ode it ends up being.

Certain aspects of the movie, like Vajpayee’s bond with his father (Piyush Mishra) and his enduring friendship with Rajkumari Kaul (Ekta Kaul), have a lot of potential, but the script treats them the same way it treats everything else it has access to: as merely a component to fit into the bigger picture.

It is tough to get enthusiastic about Main Atal Hoon from a strictly cinematic standpoint. However, given the film’s obvious purpose, it might not be a complete flop. It may find admirers beyond the circles of people who expect more nuance and diversity from Bollywood biopics, only to repeatedly disappoint them.

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