The grime of campaigning and the dazzle of stardust have combined in election year to make for four films and possibly two more as the silver screen emerges as the new "rally" maidan.
With "Uri: The Surgical Strike", "The Accidental Prime Minister", "Thackeray" and “The Tashkent Files” releasing in quick succession, films have become the newest campaign runners in this season of polarised politics.
Besides these four, two biopics on Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been announced, one by BJP MP Paresh Rawal and another starring admirer Vivek Oberoi.
These movies are not low budget films with small or unknown faces.
Ronnie Screwvala's "Uri: The Surgical Strike", which releases Friday and stars Vicky Kaushal, is on the September 2016 strike against Pakistan when Army troops crossed into the country and smashed four launch pads under the guard of a Pakistani post.
"The Accidental Prime Minister", starring Anupam Kher as former prime minister Manmohan Singh and based on a book by his former media advisor, also releases Friday amid accusations that it portrays the Gandhi family in poor light.
The BJP called it a "riveting tale" of how a family held a country to ransom for 10 years and tweeted the trailer of the film on its official handle, while the Congress termed the film "propaganda" ahead of the 2019 elections.
"Thackeray" is a biopic on Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, produced and penned by senior party leader Sanjay Raut with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the title role. It releases on January 25, Thackeray's birth anniversary.
Fourth in the list of "party" films is "The Tashkent Files", about the mysterious circumstances under which second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died. It is directed by vocal BJP supporter Vivek Agnihotri and is slated for release by February or March.
The line-up and its timing, ahead of elections expected in May this year, led to searching questions on the use of a medium that draws all sections of society, the rich, the underprivileged, the illiterate and the intellectual.
Creative minds are going full throttle, using credible names, known for their acting, to front the pieces accused of being “motivated” or “ideological” in nature, said industry insiders.
"Overwhelmed by the pre-election line up of propaganda films. Never in my 23 career have I seen cinema used so cunningly to influence votes. And while I think censorship & bans are totally undemocratic, I wish some credible talents hadn't sold their souls to the propaganda mills," wrote "Aligarh" scriptwriter Apurva Asrani on Twitter.
Overwhelmed by the pre-election line up of propaganda films. Never in my 23 career have I seen cinema used so cunningly to influence votes. And while I think censorship & bans are totally undemocratic, i wish some credible talents hadnt sold their souls to the propaganda mills.— Apurva (@Apurvasrani) January 8, 2019
Southern superstar Sidharth was equally scathing.
"Poetic justice is when a Muslim actor from UP gets to play the part of the revered Marathi bigot in a propaganda film," he said in reference to Siddiqui playing Thackeray.
"The conveniently un-subtitled #Marathi trailer of #Thackeray. So much hate sold with such romance and heroism (Music, tiger roars, applause, jingoism). No solidarity shown to millions of South Indians and immigrants who make #Mumbai great. #HappyElections!" he added.
There were also those who defended the creative enterprise behind the films.
According to Kher, releasing a political film during election time only makes sense.
"People release patriotic films during Independence Day or Republic Day. This is a political film and we would like to release it in the election time. What is the problem in that?" he said at the launch of the "The Accidental Prime Minister" last month.
Rawal, a BJP MP from Ahmedabad East, was equally dismissive of the criticism of the films.
Responding to the notion that "Uri..." is a "propaganda film", Rawal said, "If we have done something good, we should be proud of it and we are showcasing that in a film. How is it a propaganda film? Pakistan came, attacked, killed our soldiers and we have taken revenge and given them a befitting reply.”
Rawal said he gets furious when people raise doubts over the authenticity of surgical strikes.
“Some even said Pakistan did not verify it. They are not going to accept that this has happened. Army has taken such a big step so instead of praising their work, one doubts their efforts,” Rawal said.
In a country where romantic and period dramas like "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" and "Padmaavat" can make national headlines day after day for "hurting sentiments", this spate of political films presents a reversal of sorts with no protests and no calls for a ban, just muted objections on social media.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has objected to certain scenes referring to the Babri Masjid and the South Indian community in "Thackeray" but there's not much more beyond that.
“it is a true story. Balasaheb's life was an open book. The censor board will understand. Some things take time to be understood. There is no question of ban, this is Thackeray. Nobody can ban Thackeray," Raut had said at the trailer launch of the film.