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Real heroes on reel

Friday, October 12, 2018

Biopics have gathered momentum in the past two years, indicating the audience's shift of attention from fictional to real-life stories, says Tanmaya Vyas

A week ago, Deepika Padukone’s fans were elated with the news of the actress returning to the screen after a hiatus of one-and-a-half years, post-Padmavat. A debut producer, Deepika will also be acting in a biopic about Lakshmi, the acid-attack survivor—a story of courage and dignity, which needs to be told. This will be among the biopics that the Hindi film industry has to offer in the near future. The very start of the year 2019 will see many major biopics coming up—Hrithik Roshan starrer Super 30, based on the life of mathematician Anand Kumar, Nawazuddin Shaikh in and as Balasaheb Thackeray in Thackeray, Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev in 83 and Kangana Ranaut starrer Manikarnika-The Queen of Jhansi.

From Maratha warrior Bajirao to an airhostess Neerja Bhanot, who became a hero for her relentless efforts to save passengers on a hijacked plane—motion pictures have become a preferred medium to share these stories. For a country like India, which is a melting pot of politics, art and culture, dynamic social-political scenario-stories are abundant. Movies on freedom fighters, politicians, popular movie stars and sportsmen… filmmakers have explored stories of most of these. Biopics on film stars and sports stars work best, considering the love and connect the Indian masses have with these two industries.

However, biopics on unsung heroes like Paan Singh Tomar or Shahid have also found a place in the audiences’ heart too. There are movies based on common people with heroic deeds too that generate curiosity. Apart from Neerja, Manjhi - the Mountain Man, the film Aligarh also garnered immense popularity and critical acclaim.

Taran Adarsh, one of the seniormost business analysts, shared his insights. “I think it is wonderful that biopics have found a wide audience. I mean, why not? India has so many stories to tell and share. I say this not just as someone from the industry but even as viewer. Watching biopics is an amazing cinematic experience. To watch stories of legends, heroes or even the common man achieving something phenomenal is inspiring and some are thought-provoking.”

The general consensus has been that these real stories work primarily on two premises—inspiration and sensationalism. The rags-to-riches story, or struggles that lead to glorious victories are inspiring, whereas stories of fallen heroes have a sensationalism quotient. For instance, The Dirty Picture, a movie on southern sex siren Silk Smitha, who was rumoured to have committed suicide, was one of the first women-centric films to enter the Rs 100-crore club. Soon, audiences will watch Richa Chaddha as Shakeela, another adult movie actress. There is also a change of perception towards women-centric movies. The scale of Manikarnika, which is being shot currently, is grand, indicating the faith that the industry now has in women-centric biopics. The trend towards women-centric biopics was set by The Dirty Picture, Mary Kom, Neerja, and Dangal, all of which crossed the Rs 100 crore club.

Adarsh comments, “It’s not a new trend of women-centric movies doing well at the box-office. They did well in the 50’s and 60’s too. However, yes, with Manikarnika the scale and budgets have soared for a women-centric film.”

Even for the actors, working in biopics is known to give creative satisfaction. Ranbir Kapoor has  repeatedly said that working in the movie Sanju left him in awe of the star who has dealt with problems of high magnitude, from overcoming a drug problem to getting involved with terrorists and then the law. Working in biopics also gives them an edge during awards season and wins critical accolades; as happens in the West, maximum awards are swept up by actors who portray real-life heroes.

The wave of biopics has reached regional cinema too. Two major productions on their way are in Marathi and Telugu. Ani Kashinath Ghanekar based on Marathi theatre legend Kashinath Ghanekar and N.T.R: Kathanayakudu based on NTR, the demi-god of Tollywood and then the seven-time chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, are big budget, multi-starrer movies expected in the upcoming quarter.

The trend, however, faces its own share of criticism. With the release of Sanju, the praise showered on Ranbir Kapoor’s portrayal of Sanjay Dutt equalled the amount of criticism the director Raju Hirani faced. He was criticised for turning a biopic into a hagiography. This, however, has not affected the box office collections and the success of Sanju is proof enough. The news of a biopic on adult star Sunny Leone too, set the wrong mood for critics, for glorifying her. While audiences and critics loved M S Dhoni: The Untold Story, Azhar, based on the erstwhile captain of Indian cricket team Mohammad Azharuddin, sank without a trace, basically because Dhoni’s story is of a complete underdog—the unique selling point.

Industry revenues have also gone up because of the interest in biopics. Till this quarter, the revenue for 2018 is known to be around Rs 3,000 crores, of which over Rs 500 crores are owned by the biopic Sanju. Over 40 biopics have been made in the last decade; in 2016 alone, there were 12 biopics.

There are many more in the pre-production stage such as biopics on actor/singer Kishore Kumar, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, astronaut Rakesh Sharma, music industry baron Gulshan Kumar, ace badminton players PV Sindhu and Sania Nehwal with one biopic on each, among several others announced. The variety of personalities and the curiosity generated by these movies show good times for the industry ahead.  From glossy romances, high-octane action movies and the silly comedies that Bollywood has been known for, the attention has shifted to real-life stories.

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