Can Indian cinema ever make a decent biopic?

‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ poster
‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ poster

Making biopics has suddenly become a contagious disease in Bollywood. There was a semi-cooked one on former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, an over-cooked attempt on Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray, a half-baked one on poet Saadat Hassan Manto that hit the screens in recent times. What is gratifying is that none of these movies made anything more than whimper at the box office. And, for good reason!

Not that Indian cinema has been averse to telling true stories. There was the excellent Paan Singh Tomar that told the tale of an Olympian turning rogue and then there was Dangal that brought out the struggles of two gold medalists who overcame misogyny in their families and several other movies in between that gave us more than a glimpse into the lives of real people.

However, more often than not these movies were unidimensional to the point that they attempted to somehow justify the lives that these people led. In other words, they kept miles away from anything controversial or possibly just skimmed the surface. Take the case of the MS Dhoni biopic – the movie was possibly the best in this genre but even here some aspects like the captain jettisoning senior players or the issues around the IPL were glossed over.

For good reason, one must say. India is a country where poetic license is harder to get than a driving license. Remember how Deepika Padukone’s nose became the hottest topic of discussion prior to the release of that damp squib of a movie called Padmavat? Of course, it is another matter that people thronged the theatres to get a glimpse of that nose and the rest of Deepika though the star of the show was indeed Ranvir Singh who essayed Khilji with an energy never before seen on Indian screen for a villain (barring exceptions like Gabbar Singh).

Click here to watch: Padmaavat Review

Take the example of Sanju, the movie that represented (or was it misrepresented) the life and times of Sanjay Dutt? The movie was at best a PR exercise for the actor who ambled his way through a career that highlighted his incapability more than his capability. The superficiality of the movie was visible in the manner in which leading man Ranbir Kapoor believed that by merely mimicking Sanjay Dutt’s walk he could get into the character.

No offense to Ranbir Kapoor. Even a seasoned actor like Anupam Kher made the same mistake with the movie on Manmohan Singh where he walked and mimicked the leader’s voice but couldn’t get even an iota of the personality in place on screen. Maybe, this was intentional as the movie was reportedly bankrolled by the ruling party and intended to embarrass the first family of the leading opposition party.

Also read: The Accidental Prime Minister Review

Of course, there were some movies like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and to a lesser extent Dirty Picture that brought out not just one side of the story. Also, in both the cases the actor who played the role of the personality managed to imbube much more into the role by letting go of their individuality to a substantial extent. Both Farhan Akhtar and Vidya Balan breathed life into the characters though the stories continued to be less than fully baked.

The one movie that was well intentioned and did manage to present the life of India’s boxing queen Mary Kom skirted issues related to the officialdom but was largely true to the life of the person. There were many that felt that an actor from the Northeast should have represented Mary Kom on screen but Priyanka Chopra didn’t let things slip just because she didn’t look like the real life person that she portrayed on screen.

There are a slew of similar movies getting made as we write this. One can only hope that at least some of them show the courage of conviction to state it as it is.

Till such time, let’s be happy with the real people and forget about the reel ones.

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