With an array of films lined up for release from the genre, Bollywood’s love for them has seen a boost in recent years
“Neerja”, “M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story” and “Sanju”. Not to miss “Dangal” and “Mary Kom”. What’s common? They are all biopics — inspiring stories of heroes sans greasepaint for which actors like Aamir Khan put on a pronounced paunch to play former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and Priyanka Chopra learnt the art of boxing to tell the tale of five-time world champion M.C. Mary Kom.
Waiting to be told
More such inspiring stories are waiting to be told on the big screen, as actors, directors, distributors and the audience are yet to feel sated. “The first and foremost reason for filmmakers making biopics is that they largely want to explore the fan following of a celebrity — from actors to sports stars to any legendary figure,” Wave Cinemas Vice President Yogesh Raizada said.
Biopics, however, aren’t a new phenomenon, Ashish Saksena, Chief Operating Officer-Cinemas, BookMyShow, pointed out. “If one goes back in time, we had a biopic on Dr. Kotnis called ‘Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani’ as early as 1946. Since then many biopics have found their way to the big screen and such stories usually revolve around film stars, sports personalities and freedom fighters, among others. While filmmakers definitely find good stories to tell through biopics, the other major reason for their success is that audiences are already familiar with, and can relate to, the characters (on which the films are based),” said Saksena. “We have seen that as long as it is a story of triumph, interesting and well-directed, the film always works,” he added.
Yes, they do mostly create fireworks at the box office. The most recent example being Ranbir Kapoor-starrer “Sanju”, which reveals the “many lives” of actor Sanjay Dutt. According to trade analyst Taran Adarsh, “Sanju” is heading for a “blockbuster status”. He tweeted on Wednesday: “‘Sanju’ continues its epic run. Eyes Rs 200 crore+ in week one. Friday Rs 34.75 crore, Saturday Rs 38.60 crore, Sunday Rs 46.71 crore, Monday Rs 25.35 crore, Tuesday Rs 22.10 crore. Total: Rs 167.51 crore. India business.”
While “Sanju” continues to keep the cash registers ringing at the ticket counters, Shaad Ali’s directorial “Soorma”, based on the life of Sandeep Singh — a former captain of the Indian national hockey team who was wheelchair-bound for two years — will release on July 13. “It’s always good to tell an inspiring story. As a director, you feel like making at least one sports film in your career. Not that I went hunting for it (‘Soorma’), it came to me and I liked the story and the sport. I have played hockey. So, it was good, and fun shooting,” said Ali. The audience, he said, should expect a “good wholesome family kind of a film which is rooted in India”.
Asked about the difference between making a fiction film and a biopic, the “Saathiya” director said, “There’s nothing really different. It (biopic) is a little easy because you already have the story ready. The tough part is to tell it responsibly and be as honest and truthful to it. Also, you can’t take it for granted… that (because) it is a biopic, you can be lazy with it. You still have to do your homework,” he added.
If directors enjoy shooting such films, actors also like to portray real-life characters. Actress Richa Chadha, who will play the lead role in a biopic on Shakeela, an actress who featured in several adult films, said, “I enjoy real stories and real parts. My characters in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and ‘Fukrey’ were also inspired by real people. This is also an exceptionally dramatic story which will make its way to the silver screen.”
She feels there’s a responsibility when she plays such roles. “The subject is alive and lives in society. Hence, I want to be careful. Of course, there’s more freedom with fictional characters. But then when playing a real person, you’ve already taken the liberty to inhabit their personality,” she said.
Vidya Balan, who has essayed late Telegu actress Silk Smitha in “The Dirty Picture”, has now bagged a role in a film based on the legendary Telugu actor-filmmaker-politician NTR. It will also star “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero” actor Jisshu Sengupta as the late actor-filmmaker L.V. Prasad. “Real stories reflect the aspiration of the common man. Most cinema-goers today want to spend their money wisely. I feel biopics, in a lot of ways, bring out the interesting stories of unsung heroes who are inspiring and very relatable as role models,” Jisshu said.
There are more in the pipeline, including films on ace badminton player Saina Nehwal, Olympic gold medallist and now-retired shooter Abhinav Bindra, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Will there ever be an end to it? “No. The industry finds a new persona to play every decade. There is no dearth of legends or icons in our country. The biopic trend is here to stay,” said Raizada.
Saksena seconded that. “Stories on real characters, events or incidents are always appreciated by the audience. In many ways, truth is stranger than fiction which is why films such as ‘Airlift’ will always find a place at the box office.”