Yes, Bollywood needs help with biopics Graphics: Tapasri Saha
This is not a great time for biopics in Bollywood. Sanju, which is raking moolah at the box office, while Ranbir Kapoor garners appreciation for his performance, was an unfaithful biopic. And while we're on that debate, if you thought half a decade ago, Hindi cinema was any different, let us remind you that Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, another dishonest biopic with a brilliant performance by Farhan Akhtar, just turned five today. Half a decade, no change whatsoever.
A leading news channel recently debated Sanju on prime time with two well-known film critics and one self-proclaimed social commentator. Turns out only one of those critics resonated my thoughts after I walked out of the theatre post Sanju, while the other two argued that a biopic is not a documentary, hence it has room for fiction. But does it have room for whitewashing?
Let's start with Milkha, the film that, perhaps, in some ways, pioneered this trend of biopics. Milkha Singh never broke the world record, despite what the film told you. And if you don't want to believe me, guess what, Milkha Singh has an autobiography (The Race Of My Life) that you can refer to for facts. No need to rely on newspaper reporting, as Sanju has already established them as 'presstitutes.' But when a filmmaker like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra backs a lie like that, because of the goodwill that precedes him, we believe it. It still remains a lie, though.
Hindi cinema's obsession about turning sports personalities into some sort of new age patriots doesn't end with Milkha. Azhar is where Bollywood sells its soul to the devil. Mohammad Azharuddin, a personal childhood cricketing icon, was charged with match-fixing and was banned from cricket. Yet, Emraan Hashmi's Azhar shows him wronged, misunderstood and just a broken soul you want to comfort with a hug. Sachin Tendulkar's documentary-style biopic, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, wasn't any different either. And the proof of that lies in the pudding, for the movie tanked, in a nation like India where cricket is a religion and Sachin is God.
If Hollywood cast Scarlett Johansson to play an Asian in Ghost in the Shell, Bollywood cast Priyanka Chopra, a North Indian, to play Mary Kom, a Northeastern. And we did it before them. Sushant Singh Rajput's M.S. Dhoni in M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story was like a reincarnation of Lord Ram — flawless and always so focused that his resilience will put all of us to shame.
Vidya Balan's Silk Smitha in The Dirty Picture was reduced to a pair of heaving breasts and an ever-growing waistline, and the road to self-destruction she chose, with little or no focus on the way she and other female actors like her are exploited in the industry. And then we have Akshay Kumar in Pad Man, and his completely concocted love angle with Sonam Kapoor because, I guess, the Indian audience needs masala. All this backed by good, respectable directors we have some expectations from — Mehra, Neeraj Pandey (Dhoni), Milan Luthria (Dirty...), Omung Kumar (Mary Kom), R Balki (Pad Man), and Rajkumar Hirani (Sanju).
Things get really problematic when you realise that these films will go down in posterity. And just like for us Bhaag Milkha Bhaag became the truth, while my father kept yelling at the screen, saying, "That's not how it happened," the generation after ours will know Sanjay Dutt through the prism of Sanju.
That's not how it happened. That's not even close. Bollywood just sold you a lie.
Then how is it any different from politically manufactured truths propagated by party-operated social media cells?