Near the presidential palace in Turkish capital Ankara, a biopic about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was put on show Friday to depict his early political career as he entered his 15th year for serving the country.

The film “Reis” comes out weeks before a contentious constitutional reform on April 16 granting Turkey’s strongman executive powers and the political campaign is heavily polarizing the country’s society.

The film traces the early career of Erdogan from his childhood in the popular Kasimpasa neighbourhood in central Istanbul to his meteoric rise to become the biggest city’s mayor of Turkey (1994-1998).

“Reis” means the chief in Turkish. The feature, the first of its kind to portray a living Turkish leader, shows Erdogan’s life up to 1999 when he was imprisoned for several months for reciting a poem deemed to have Islamic connotations, after which his party came to power in 2002.

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During a gala ceremony in a movie theatre located in one of Ankara’s biggest shopping malls on Friday evening, actors and producers of the film explained to the press how “thrilled” they were in taking part in the movie.

Turkish actor Reha Beyoglu said that “playing the president is a big responsibility, I hope I have done a good job.”

The premiere was organized in Istanbul on Feb. 26 which was also Erdogan’s 63 birthday.

Questions have been raised over the film’s timing and critics of Erdogan saw it as an intervention in the on going campaign ahead of the referendum.

“This is certainly not a propaganda film, its about the childhood and very early political career of a leader of Turkey,” Engin Baturunlu, general coordinator of Kafkasor film based in Istanbul, said.

“One should not seek a political motive behind of it all, it all started with the deepest love and respect that the producer’s bare toward the president,” he explained, adding that his contentment was even not asked.

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A special screening was held especially for the subject of the movie in the presidential palace after the wrapping of the feature and Erdogan conveyed to the team his “appreciation,” said Baturunlu.

In the movie, Erdogan is presented as a pious person in defiance of any oppression, namely the staunch secular establishment that he crushed during his leadership.

Some moviegoers were quite impressed by what they saw.

“It was very interesting to see someone’s childhood that you respect. He is an important leader on a global scale and he deserved to have a film about him like Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan,” 24 year-old Ahmed Aslan said to Xinhua.

But another audience complained about lacks in the production, thinking that Erdogan deserves better.

“I enjoyed it but I think that it could have been better with maybe more anecdotes on the president’s childhood,” argued Sevin Taskin.

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With a budget of some four million U.S. dollars, the film was shot in Istanbul and northern Cyprus where a detailed reconstruction of Kasimpasa was built on site. A sequel might be in the works if this movie becomes very popular.

The film, screening more than 800 theaters across Turkey, will also be available for Turkish audiences in Europe, namely Germany where there is an important diaspora.

Erdogan has dominated Turkey as prime minister from 2003-2014 and now as president since 2014.

Erdogan is adored by his millions of supporters but is disliked by many others. Critics say that the constitutional reform that he is backing would concentrate even more power in the hands. (Xinhua)