Film of Sonia Gandhi's life barred over inaccuracy fears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2006, 12:00am

A film on the life of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi has been blocked, before the cast has even been finalised, owing to fears in her Congress party that the movie may not be as adoring as it would wish about its leader.

Director Jagmohan Mundhra had signed Italian actress Monica Bellucci to play Mrs Gandhi in a film about her love affair with India.

When she married former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Mrs Gandhi joined India's most powerful dynasty and now leads the Congress, the ruling party, as party president.

Mundhra said he wanted to portray her fascinating life by basing it loosely on an uncontroversial biography published a few years ago.

But the Congress party has served a legal notice to prevent him making the film, due to start shooting in October. The reason is that Mrs Gandhi has not given permission and the party fears it might contain inaccuracies.

Based in Los Angeles, Mundhra is in London to promote his latest film Provoked, starring former Miss World Aishwarya Rai.

He said he had not sought Mrs Gandhi's co-operation because it might have placed her in an embarrassing position.

'If she had co-operated, her opponents would have said she was having a propaganda movie made about herself. I did not think there would be a problem because there is a lot of information about her in the public domain,' he said.

Mumbai-based film director Bobby Bedi said two issues were involved: 'The issue of freedom of speech, and the issue of invasion of privacy.

'If there is no invasion of privacy, I don't see what the party's problem is,' he said.

Mrs Gandhi's standing soared in May 2004, when her party won the general election but she refused the prime minister's post due to fears a foreigner holding the top job could spark conflict.

Her critics, though, describe her as the de facto prime minister. She certainly wields tremendous influence over the government.

The culture in the Congress party has always been one of deference towards the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. On her birthday, party members gather outside her house to fight over who will present her with the biggest bouquet and compose the most fawning jingle.

The personality cult that surrounds her was on display the day she announced she was renouncing the top job.

MPs praised her in sycophantic terms, and had implored her to reconsider.

Ever since India became the first country to ban Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in 1988, an increasingly illiberal culture has emerged. Any book or film that might offend someone is banned.

There have also been cases of public individuals seeking pre-emptive legal orders to prevent biographies they do not like from being published. Mundhra said he hoped that any 'misunderstandings' could be sorted out.