There was a time when Bollywood was obsessed with boy-meets-girl love stories. Then, came the phase of selling slapstick humour as nothing but leave-your-brain-at-home comedy. There was also a phase of making sequels that’s somehow still alive. It’s safe to say that every few years, Bollywood discovers or sometimes re-discovers a genre and for a few years after that, we watch ‘n’ number of films of the same kind.
Currently, Bollywood’s newest obsession is the biopic genre.
With the biopics, Bollywood has discovered a new way of selling tickets.
With the necessary ingredient of patriotism and some obstacles that are in no way threatening to the personality’s reputation, the cinema halls are packed in the first weekend itself. Be it a sports icon, a yesteryear movie star or even a bootlegger, either there’s already a biopic that’s been made on their story or there is one in the making.
Since 2015, Bollywood has seen more than 12 films that could be classified under this genre.
However, in the plethora of films that claim to be biographical, Paan Singh Tomar clearly stands out.
Released in 2012, Paan Singh Tomar was based on the life of an athlete who represented the Indian Army but turned into a baaghi (bandit).
Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, the film is probably one of the best biopics made by Bollywood in the 21st century.
At the time this film was made, the masses were not aware of the story of a man who turned into a bandit after serving in the army. And based on that one line of introduction, the story immediately became intriguing.
The film doesn’t please its ‘hero’ by giving a moral justification for his actions. In fact, it states facts without any unnecessary melodrama or theatrics.
His introduction to the sports division is motivated by dietary supplements and his introduction to the world of dacoits is because of a family-land dispute. He isn’t shown as a hero but as a character who is driven by motivation and that is where the beauty of this biopic lies.
The film does not take liberty in fighting for a larger cause but is honest in its storytelling.
It goes without saying that Tigmanushu Dhulia’s direction and Irrfan’s Khan’s stellar performance deserve all credit for the film.
The problem arises when biopics are tailored to meet its subject’s demands. From telling the life story of a personality, they transition into an advertisement that only highlights the good bits. The failures, faults and the mistakes are conveniently omitted in the name of creative liberty.
While Neerja was a great film, it is certainly an exception in the bunch of biopics that we’ve seen in the past few years.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s performance was probably the only saving grace of the Dhoni biopic that conveniently skipped all the controversies surrounding the cricketer. A movie like Azhar fell victim to the hero-worship which was just too hard to swallow for the audience.
When real life stories aren’t found dramatic enough for the big screen, facts are often twisted to suit the narrative.
For instance, even though Dangal has become the highest grossing film of all time in Bollywood, one cannot ignore the fictional events that were added to enhance the tension. Geeta Phogat’s final at the CWG 2010 was won by the wrestler with a convincing 1-0, 7-0 and did not drag till the last second as shown in the film.
In 2017, films based on the lives on Malavath Purna, Rakesh Sharma, Sanjay Dutt and Haseena Parkar have already been announced but we are yet to see that if they indulge in ‘hero-worship’ or make a film that is remembered for decades.
There is nothing wrong in sprinkling some masala into the story but the least Bollywood can do is not call it a biopic!