Modi’s Twitter home page.
Modi’s Twitter home page.

The deconstruction of a Twitter photo

Why Modi's twitter photo reminds Aakar Patel of Sanjay Gupta's 'Kaante'

That photograph masthead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account. Look at it. It has been there for many weeks. Its placement is deliberate. I have been staring at it, mesmerized, absorbing its message. The photograph is beautiful, and perfect. It is like a monument in pixels. Sweeping and panoramic, its heroic characters seem to burst towards us, the action radiating outwards.

What does it communicate? Many things. First, that it is elegant, with a classical sense of order, of proportion.

The placement of the characters, the framing, the use of space, is just right. If this image is the work of a wire agency or a casual photographer, it is a once in a lifetime shot. The composition is immaculate. It is composed in the way of a poster of Reservoir Dogs. Or The Avengers. Or, actually, Kaante. If Sanjay Gupta turns out to have directed the shoot of these men striding purposefully forward, I would not be surprised.

If it were art, and to my mind it is, what sentiment does the image express? What emotion? And what adjectives would we use in describing it? I would say: toughness, competence, resolve. A group of men who are square-jawed (at least in intent). The game face is on, lit up by the red light of dusk.

In one way it is dissimilar to Kaante. This photograph has a clear hierarchy and the leader surges at the apex of a roughly convex formation. The others to the right and to the left, ebbing in his wake. Who’s in charge here? That is not in doubt. The confidence of the individual is stamped upon the whole photograph.

The scene is throbbing with intent. There is energy coursing through it, but it is potential energy, not kinetic. Like Michelangelo’s David, it is the scene before the action. Business is going to be shortly attended to, it promises. The guns are being taken off safety, or in this case, a file is being rifled through.

The faces are noble, and radiant, which is remarkable given the panoramic nature of the shot. It is almost as if they were posing. There is confidence and a controlled aggression. It would not be out of place here to refer to it as being in the school of Veer Rasa, or heroism. The eyes are looking into the middle distance for further dragons to tame. Don’t worry, that face tells us, I’ve got this. The business at hand has already been taken care of. ‎The many-pillared citadel behind him is already conquered.

The attire is right and the men are in battledress, an armour of dark suit and tie (the standard grey safaris of security men would have ruined it). Black SUVs stand parked in the distance on the right and on the left. They add that hard edge that completes the masculine image.

Under the photograph, the text ranges through a vast array of subjects, national, local and global. Its language is easy, friendly and assured. The text is in many languages: Chinese, Japanese, Gujarati, German. Modi has tweeted something in Cyrillic. What is it? It has 450 retweets and 600 favourites. Is it Russian? Serbian? I do not know. The comments under it are all from Indians. Why have they favourited it? Who have they retweeted it for? It is excellent.

When I profiled him for this newspaper a few years ago, Modi had 140,000 followers but followed nobody. I think I accused him of solipsism but I am happy to learn that I was in fact wrong and this has changed. Now there are many whose tweets he is curious about, whose voices he wants to hear. They include Modi United Fan Club (@ModiUFC), Trust Narendra Modi (@Trustnamo), Force NaMo (@ForceNamo), Modi-Fying India (@ModiFyingIndia), NaMo India (@NaMo_India), NaMo Gatha (@NaMo_Gatha), MODIfyUP (@MODIfyUP), GlobalCitizens4Modi (@Citizens4Modi), My PM Narendra Modi (@NaMo4PM), and NarendraModi (@NamoINDIAPM).

It is as a chorus. All hail. What do these people tweet? It would be interesting to look at the data. And what is it like to be a supporter of the hero and not have him follow you? That would be painful, I imagine, but at least those on Twitter can return time and again, as I have been doing so often, just to stare in adulation at that icon of a visual.

This page has not been casually put together, it must be admitted. It has received the attention of someone truly gifted in communication. It has the precise messaging of a painting by one of the Dutch masters. There is absolutely no doubt, we are assured, that whatever stuff that needs doing, no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible for others, will get done. This is Don‎Bradman striding out to bat.

It is a moment of clarity. ‎If that gorgeous pin-stripe suit were a photograph, this is how it would be. Look on me ye mighty, it says, I’ve arrived.

Also Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns