Bollywood Biopics: One trend, many Movies

Bollywood Biopics: One trend, many Movies

By Shambhu SahunnReel and real is a deadly combination in Bollywood. It almost always works with the audience, especially now when the audience is more evolved and hungry for good content. And thus you have a slew of ?biopics? (as they are called; biographical+picture=biopic) lined up for release in the coming months. Rajkumar Hirani?s ?Sanju?, an authorised biographical film on actor Sanjay Dutt, is the latest example.nnThe film has broken all recent records at the box-office (B.O.) and is so far the most successful film of 2018. The film is on its way to cross 600 crore within two weeks. It was 585 crore on its 10-day of run at the B.O. But this is not an absolutely recent phenomenon. One of the first biopics to be made in Bollywood was V. Shantaram?s ?Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani? (1946).nnThe film written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and VP Sathe, was based on the life of an Indian doctor Dwarkanath Kotnis, who worked in China during the World War II.nnSince then there have been biopics coming and going, but it never emerged as a major trend in Bollywood, except for phases where a few films came in the same year. Like 1994 saw two films being made on real life characters ? Shekhar Kapur?s gritty ?Bandit Queen? based on the life of exploit-turned-Bandit Phoolan Devi; and Shyam Benegal?s ?Sardar?, based on the life of Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, essayed on screen by Paresh Rawal.nnOne year that saw maddening rush to make biopic was 2002 when at least three films were made on the life of Shahid Bhagat Singh, one the youngest Indian freedom fighters. These include Rajkumar Santoshi?s ?The legend of Bhagat Singh? with Ajay Devgn in the lead role; ?23rd March 1931: Shaheed?, with Bobby Deol, and ?Shaheed-e-Azam?, with Sonu Sood. This despite the fact that Manoj Kumar had already made a film on the same subject titled ?Shahid? in 1965.nnThe biopic trend has taken off in a major way in the recent past in Bollywood, and sports drama form a large part of this. Sensing the demand of ?real? content and buoyed by the success of real life sports dramas like ?Chad De! India?, ?Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?, ?Paan Singh Tomar?, ?MS Dhoni?, ?Dangal?, etc., the filmmakers have lined up over a dozen biopics for release in near future. From Kangana Ranaut?s ?Manikarnika-The Rani of Jhansi? to Reema Kagti?s ?Gold?, to Karan Johar?s ?Kesari?, to Kabir Khan?s ?1983?, a biopic of cricket legend Kapil Dev, and many more getting ready to enthral audiences with real stories, drama, and patriotism.nnBiopic Goes MainstreamnnOne most important trend to be noted within this trend is that biopics as a genre was earlier explore mostly by the so called art film directors, is now finding favours among the mainstream commercial filmmakers. If one looks at the biopics made in Bollywood so far, it is clear that this genre was exploited largely by the so called art directors, while the mainstream commercial directors remained confined to their masala films.nnIt was Shyam Benegal who brought stories of Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhas Chandra and singer and courtesan Sardari Begam on screen in his films ?Sardar? (1994), ?Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero? (1998), and Sardari Begum (1996). Vinay Shukla?s ?Godmother? (1999) was reportedly based on the life of a lady don from Porbandar, Gujarat, who ran the Mafia operations and later turned politician. Shabana Azmi played the lead role. So far, it was for ?art filmmakers? to sell such real stories. One major exception perhaps was Shekhar Kapur who could make a sensitive cinema (?Masoom?) as well as a potboiler (?Mr. India?) and also a hard hitting biopic ?Bandit Queen?nnThings kind of changed a bit around 2002 when many mainstream filmmakers rushed to make films on the life of Bhagat Singh, even though many received flack for commercialising the story. Nonetheless, at least mainstream cinema was creating space for new and real story against the usual song-and-dance romance flicks. The trend seems to have matured now, as you have the very mainstream occupying the space of biopics and all major stars are playing the lead role in this change. Be it Aamir Khan with his ?Dangal? (2016) or Akshay Kumar with his many films based on real stories like ?Airlift?, ?PadMan?, ?Rustom?, and upcoming ?Kesari?, etc. A look at the line-up of the biopics and their producers, and it is clear that it?s all mainstream filmmakers who are pumping monies in the genre and hoping to make money, and entertaining audiences.nnFilm stars as Subjectsnn?Sanju? as a film is as flawed as the protagonist of its story ? Sanjay Dutt. It is flawed yet lovable ? and a large part of the credit goes to Ranbir Kapoor who has successfully managed to bring Sanjay Dutt alive on screen. While the film works at one level, it doesn?t at another. It works more as an independent story of a man who is burdened by the illustrious personalities of his parents (In this case, Sunil Dutt and Nargis, both much respected and successful filmstars). The film could have been a story independent of Sanjay Dutt, and with Ranbir Kapoor?s brilliant acting as it was in ?Sanju?, the film might just have worked.nnBut for a mainstream cinema, it needed the fact that it?s based on Sanjay Dutt?s life, to be told on the proverbial 70mm silver screen. And that?s exactly where it doesn?t work?as an authorised biography of Sanjay Dutt, the film doesn?t touch many personal aspects of his life, especially his three marriages and rumoured affairs, and impact his drug addiction and the court cases had on his films. If a biopic is meant to depict on screen the life of a known or remarkable person and as truthfully as possible, then ?Sanju? is not a true biopic. The film misses out on several aspects of Sanjay Dutt?s troubled and controversial life which is available on the internet.nnBut he wasn?t the only star kid being launched by his super successful father. Kumar Gaurav, son of another hugely popular star Rajendra Kumar (and later Sanjay Dutt?s brother-in-law), also made his debut in 1981 with ?Love Story?. Sanjay Dutt?s debut film ?Rocky? also released in the same year. But Sanjay Dutt?s story is different, and perhaps more human and close to life than surreal celebrity life. It inspires both shock and awe in audiences mind. He went through things in life that a star kid is not supposed to. His was perhaps of the first major case involving a star kid being tried for grievous charges and judged for his ?socially erratic behaviour? in full public view. That?s where the script for a Bollywood blockbuster lied.nnBefore ?Sanju?, there was ‘The Dirty Picture?, a film on life of southern actor Silk Smitha, known for her sensual onscreen avatar. Silk Smitha (originally Vijayalakshmi Vadlapati) was brought alive on screen by a gutsy performance by Vidya Balan, for which she won a National Film Award. But that was in 2011. In 2019, T-Series is bringing alive on screen the story of its founder and ?cassette king? Gulshan Kumar in ?Mogul-The Gulshan Kumar Story?. The role is likely to be essayed by none other than Akshay Kumar who is known for his real-life-inspired characters in his film of late.nnMuch before these, there were two attempts to bring alive the life and story of the father of Indian film cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke. First was Paresh Mokashi?s ?Harishchandrachi Factory? (2009, Marathi), which focused on his Dadasaheb Phalke?s struggle in making India’s first feature film ?Raja Harishchandra? (1913). Then there was Films Division?s ?Rangbhoomi? (2013), an-hour-and-a-half long documentary based on a semi-autobiographical play written by Dadasaheb Phalke.nnStories of Extraordinary CommonmennnThough there have been few attempts to make films in the life of common people, not sure if they pull enough audience to theatre.nnOmung Kumar, who made ?Mary Kom?, also made another biopic on Sarabjit Singh, who was accused of being an Indian spy in Pakistan and was sentenced to death. Randeep Hooda played the lead role and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan his sister who fought relentlessly for his release from the Pakistani prison. But it didn?t work at the B.O. But that?s not deterring Vikas Behl from making a film on the life of renowned mathematician Anand Kumar, who has a tremendous success rate as a coach who teaches underprivileged children for engineering entrance exam under initiative ?Super 30?. Superstar Hrithik Roshan is playing the role which is a testimony to acceptance of the trend among the Bollywood biggies.nnBefore this there have been some noteworthy biographical films. Like Hansal Mehta?s ?Shahid? (2012), based on the life of lawyer Shahid Azmi who was apparently killed for offering his services to terror accused; Ketan Mehta?s ?Manjhi: The Mountain Man? (2015), about a man in Bihar who single-handedly carves out a way through the mountain using just a hammer and chisel in two decades. ?Manjunath? (2014) was based on life of S. Manjunath, an executive of a reputed petroleum company who was killed in Uttar Pradesh by goons who didn?t like his objecting to their adulteration of diesel.nnHansal Mehta?s deeply moving ?Aligarh? (2015) was based on a true story of Professor Dr. S. Ramchandra Siras who was suspended from university due to his sexual orientation. This has one of Manoj Bajpajee?s finest performances in recent times. Similarly, Sonam Kapoor have her career best performance in Ram Madhvani?s ?Neerja? (2016). The film was based on the life of airhostess Neerja Bhanot, who sacrificed her life while protecting the lives of 359 passengers on the hijacked Pan Am flight 73 in 1986.nnRam Gopal Varma?s came back from a hiatus ?Veerappan? (2016), the life story of brigand Veerappan and how he was killed eventually by the Special Task Force.nnThen there were also ?Hawaizaada? (2015) on an Indian scientist Shivkar Bapuji Talpade who is believed to have made India’s first unmanned plane, and also a biopic on Anna Hazare. Ananth Narayan Mahadevan too has made a handful of films on real stories like ?Sindhu Tai Sakpal? and ?Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File? based on the lives of two extraordinary citizens.nnPolitical and Historical BiopicsnnNow, a film is being made on the tenure of former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh titled ?The Accidental Prime Minister?. The main lead is being played by veteran actor Anupam Kher who surprisingly looks the part. The film is said to be based on Dr Sanjaya Baru?s bestselling book by the same name. Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and are the earlier popular leaders on whom films have been made.nnThe genre of historical films in popular cinema domain has been exploited well by Aamir Khan?s ?Mangal Pandey? (2005), Ashutosh Gowarikar?s ?Jodha Akbar?, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali?s ?Bajirao Mastani? and ?Padmaavat?. Bhansali perhaps has been most successful with this genre. Kangana is coming with a latest offering in this space with her historical ?Manikarnika-The Rani of Jhansi?, based on the one of the earliest Indian freedom fighters, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi.nnNegative is Positively InnnNegative stories have found takers among the filmmakers who wanted to tell their stories or their inside stories. From ?Bandit Queen? to ?Once upon a time in Mumbai? to ?Veerappan? to ?Haseena?, there have been enough negative personalities that have been depicted on screen. One of the earliest such films is Vinay Shukla?s ?Godmother? based on the life of real lady don-turned-politician from Gujarat. Of late, the focus has been on the Mumbai underworld. Latest in the series is Apoorva Lakhia?s ?Haseena? (2017), based on the life of Haseena Parker, sister of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. In the same league is Arjun Rampal playing gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli in Ashim Ahluwalia?s ?Daddy? (2017). But again this particular segment has not worked as much as the sports dramas have.nnSports Drama ? The next big fad?nnComing back to the recent trend of biopic, films on famous sportsperson?s lives seem to dominate the cinema world. Sports biopics are ultimate recipe for a guaranteed success at the BO. They have twist and turns and also a heavy dose of patriotism ? which works for the audiences and filmmakers alike. Look at the success Shimit Amin?s sports drama ?Chak De! India? (2007) received. Still Shah Rukh Khan’s one of the finest performances. Then there was Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra?s ?Bhaag Milkha Bhaag? (2013), an authorised biography of renowned athlete Milkha Singh, which became a blockbuster. An over dramatized depiction of Milkha?s life, but people loved it.nnTigmanshu Dhulia?s ?Paan Singh Tomar? (2012), another sports biopic on an award winning sprinter-turned-dacoit by the same name, was critically acclaimed but comparatively a moderate success. While Farhan Akhtar went all out to bring alive Milkha on screen and was successful, Irrfan Khan was impressive as always in his depiction of Paan Singh Tomar, an Indian army sportsman who frustrated with the system becomes a dacoit. In 2014, Priyanka Chopra essayed the role of Olympic boxing champion Mary Kom, titled by the same name and directed by Omung Kumar. The film had a reasonable success at the box office.nnIn ?Dangal? (2016), superstar Aamir Khan played former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat who braves societal criticism and trains his two wrestler daughters who went on to win laurels at the Commonwealth Games 2012. The same year, three more biopics released of which two were on cricket. ?M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story? (2016) was an authorised biographical film on the life captain cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni?s and it did very well at the B.O. ?Azhar?, based on the life of another former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin, played by Emraan Hashmi, too fared well. Third was the ?Budhia Singh: Born to Run?, which was based on the life of world’s youngest marathon runner Budhia Singh and his coached played by Manoj Bajpayee.nnNow, we have a slew of films lined up which are based on sports personalities. Cricket always in the forefront in India so there is a biopic which is making lot of news: Kabir Khan?s biopic on Kapil Dev?s career, so far known as ?1983?, where Ranveer Singh plays the legendary cricketer. The story of Indian Women Cricket Team Captain, Mithali Raj, who led the team to the finals in the World Cup in 2017, will also be depicted on big screen. She apparently wants Priyanka Chopra to play her on screen.nnHowever, it is heartening to see other sports getting equally prominent space. After ?Chak De! India?, hockey seems to have caught Bollywood?s fancy. From Daljit Dosanj?s ?Soorma? (on the life of former hockey captain Sandeep Singh) to Reema Kagti?s ?Gold? (based on the life of hockey player Balbir Singh who along with his team helped India win first gold medal). The current king of realistic cinema, Akshay Kumar plays the lead in ?Gold? and he looks impressive in the trailer. The film released on Independence Day this year. Then there are reports of a film being made on Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand (better late than never, in this case).nnTennis is the next big thing it seems as far as cinema is concerned. Almost all three current favourites ? Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sandhu, and their coach P. Gopichand ? seems to have scored a point with filmmakers as a separate biopic on each of them is either confirmed on in the news. Star shuttler Saina Nehwal, who a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, will be played by Shraddha Kapoor. Both of them exchanged tweets announcing the untitled film.nnThen you have a biopic being made on Saina?s contemporary P.V. Sindhu, who became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal in 2016, reportedly by actor-producer Sonu Sood. How can the coach who trained these two to international glory be left behind? Super coach P. Gopichand may also get a biopic on him, as per some reports.nnThe other major biopics said to be in the pipeline are on the life shooter and Olympic Gold medallist Abhinav Bindra; a film on the life star runner P.T. Usha, who reached Olympics but unfortunately missed a medal, is also on the offing, reportedly with Priyanka Chopra as the lead in the film.nnWith a sports biopic or drama, you have a sure shot winner. But then you will have to hunt for more such sporting gems from our recent history and tell their stories in most compelling way. Till then, it?s ?Sanju? all the way.

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