NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A new Bollywood film on a shrewd businesswoman’s plan to build a power plant caught up in development politics is drawing comparisons with the controversy behind the failed Indian project of U.S. utilities giant Enron.
“Sarkar Raj,” starring Bollywood’s first family the Bachchans, has an uncanny resemblance to the real-life drama involving powerful politician Balasaheb Thackeray, whose party opposed a $2.8 billion power plant built by Enron in the 1990s.
The controversy surrounding the private power plant, India’s largest then, highlighted the politics of development and the difficulties of doing business in a country replete with corruption, political intimidation and red tape.
Director Ram Gopal Varma, however, said neither Thackeray nor Enron inspired “Sarkar Raj,” or Absolute Rule, which opens on Friday.
“There is politics, but it’s not entirely a political film,” he said. “When you make a realistic film, there is bound to be some reference point in existing characters and the existing issue.”
“Sarkar Raj,” billed as a sequel to “Sarkar” released three years ago, picks up on the life of Subhash Nagre, a charismatic, grey-haired leader played by Amitabh Bachchan, who like Thackeray, is not in government but wields enormous influence through an army of die-hard followers.
Not much in the film’s Mumbai moves without the consent of Nagre, a figure shrouded in a Godfather-like mystique. He is approached by the London-based CEO of a power firm, who realizes his blessings are vital to setting up the plant.
Bachchan’s son, Abhishek, plays his on-screen son, Shankar. The female lead, who Varma insisted was not inspired by Enron CEO Rebecca Mark, is played by Abhishek’s wife, model Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Enron’s Mark often negotiated with Thackeray to save the controversial power plant, which was closed down in 2001, the year the U.S. firm went bankrupt after an accounting scandal.
Thackeray’s party said the deal was opaque and did not benefit locals. Similarly, Nagre is against the project, which becomes a political minefield, but his foreign-educated, son, partly influenced by the CEO’s charms, persuades him to give the power plant a chance.
Editing by Simon Denyer and Miral Fahmy