At one point in Bollywood’s years of infancy somebody thought of a rags-to-riches story: A poor but idealist hero who changes his fate by sheer hard work. In the decades to follow, this story would be used and reused to propel many actors to superstardom. On the box office too, it often works wonders.
At one point in the infancy of his prime ministerial campaign Narendra Modi discovered his rags-to-riches story: The chaiwala chapter of his life. A tea-seller who'd later become the CM of the state he used to sell tea in. A real life manifestation of a Hindi film script the PM candidate India hadn't seen before. Just perfect! In the months to follow, this story was revamped and repeated umpteen times to suit the audience. The political version of Bollywood’s most repeated formula became a roaring success. The ambitious, and hardworking, chaiwala was the new PM of the country.
Modi claims he worked as an aide at his father's tea stall when he was six-year-old. It was a life of hardships. The story has been narrated and re-narrated by his fans and by the PM himself. A tiny boy trying to earn money by selling tea to passengers on a railway station that didn't receive many trains. It's an emotional story. So when a successful politician claims it is his, the world stands up and takes notice.
Through this, he won chaiwalas over, and also those who ever sat at tea joints, and were served tea by a chhotu. The tiny Vadnagar railway station, where he used to help his tea-seller father, became a talking point. Lok Sabha elections became a battle between a prime ministerial candidate hardened and humbled by the difficulties of life, and the one who had lived a life of privileges. The script delivered in the chaiwala's favour. It had to.
Now, the second phase of Bollywood’s extensively-used formula: The original poor-hero-wins-the-world story has been produced and reproduced so many times that it entertains no one. The idealist hero doesn't evoke emotions any more. At most he draws yawns. Despite all the clichés the story may still work, provided there is drought of movies at the box office. But, it doesn't impress many.
Our PM’s chaiwala story too runs the same risk. Narendra Modi is well aware of its contribution to the crafting of his image of people's prime minister during last year's election campaign. Ever since Digvijaya Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyyar made the mistake of taking a dig at his past, Modi has been wearing the tea-seller tag as a badge of honour on his chappan inch ki chhati.
From US President Barack Obama to the chaiwala serving tea to Rahul Gandhi, everybody knows about it. But, the PM isn't ready to take the risk of letting it fade from the public memory. So, in front of a cheering crowd at Madison Square Garden, he portrays a "little man who got here by selling a cup of tea"; in front of children listening to his speech on Hindi Diwas, he became "that little boy who learnt Hindi selling tea". And in between, on numerous other occasions, he brought up the chaiwala-turned-PM topic uncountable times.
The story is good. The storyteller even better. He is making the tale more believable by talking about his experiences from that part of his life. He sure has quite a few in his kitty to keep the story alive for a long time. But, the more he repeats it, the more repetitive it gets. Drawing yawns from people is the last thing Narendra Modi would want. About time he thought of a new story.