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Real Lives on Reel…

There are many genres of movies and each person has his/her favourite among them… But, like it or not, biopics (as biographical movies are commonly known) is one genre that reaches many people and throws light on some unknown or rather not-much-known information on a person whom we know for excelling in some fields very popularly known to the public. Since the 1900s quite a number of biopics have been made and though some have faded without a trace, quite a few will be known forever!
With the recent flurry of biopics being released in languages across our country, it looks like they are the flavour of this season. The amazing success of the biopic on “The Flying Sikh” – Milkha Singh, has kick started a race amongst the B-town filmmakers to get started on biopics of a number of other famous personalities too. They are becoming increasingly popular in Indian cinema and especially after the magnificent success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. However, the incidence of biopics being made in Indian cinema is very less. Most such films have to be very factually made, but the filmmakers take the liberty of adding a few commercial elements in them to make the movie more appealing to the fans. A biopic has to be made with extra care as the balance between facts and fantasy has to be very carefully done. The maker has to ensure that they do not dole out a boring life story account as there would not be many takers for that. Also, even a minor slip-up or modifying a fact would result in the movie being slammed by different sections of society – with friends, family and fans of the person on whom the biopic is being made raising major objections. For long, biopics were made on our devotional characters and this was followed by movies on gods (though they cannot be essentially called biopics despite them being life stories – as they tell the life accounts that have just been handed down for generations). Of the movies that have been made on devotional characters some movies on saints like Adi Shankara, Shegavicha Raja Gajanan, Sri Raghavendra, Chandidas, Sant Tukaram, Annamayya and a few others have been well received by the audiences.


Following these came the biopics on valiant and just kings and queens and then came movies on revered freedom fighters … Some films like Samrat Ashoka, Rajaraja Cholan, Kranthi Veera Sangolli Rayanna, Jodha Akbar and Jhansi Ki Rani were based on the life stories of our kings and queens, but the makers deviated from facts on more than one occasion to bring in the entertainment factor in these movies. When considering movies on our freedom fighters, the first title that springs to mind is the movie Gandhi – starring Ben Kingsley as the Father of our Nation. This movie though, was not made in India brought the life of the great man to even the common folk of our country through a medium that is very easy to understand – cinema. There have been many biopics like The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Kappalottiya Tamizhan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, Bharathi, Alluri Seetarama Raju, Bose: The Forgotten Hero, Pazhassi Raja, Kamaraj and a number of other movies which have infused us with patriotism while showing us the lives of the great people who fought for and got our Mother India freedom from the British.

Movies on other national leaders have also been made. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar – the movie starring Mammootty as the great jurist, politician and humanitarian showed to the world some completely unknown aspects of the great man. Periyar depicted the life of the social reformer and rationalist of EV Ramasamy – who was fondly called as Periyar. Then the times started changing and the filmmakers decided to make movies on people from different walks of life. This lead to the making of movies like Bandit Queen (story of the bandit turned politician Phoolan Devi), Swami Vivekananda, Vana Yuddham (story of the dreaded Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan), Guru (loosely based on the life of industrialist Dhirubai Ambani), Rang Rasiya (story of the life of the talented painter Raja Ravi Varma) and Iruvar (widely believed to be based on the lives of two of TamilNadu’s well known politicians – MGR and Kalaignar Karunanidhi).


Somehow, biopics on sports stars have always been a major inspiration and have also done well at the box office … Standing evidence to this are movies like Chak De India – on the life of hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi, Paan Singh Tomar – on the life of a famed steeple-chase runner turning soldier then becoming a dreaded dacoit and the one that is considered to be the highest grossing biopic on a sports star – Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. However, I feel that The Dirty Picture – the movie on the sexy siren Silk Smitha sparked off a revival for biopics. Since its success, there have been attempts in almost all the industries to create their own version of the sensuous actress’ life story and the Kannada movie Silk Sakkath Hot Maga and the Malayalam movie Climax did just that.

I believe that Hollywood welcomes biopics more than our own country does, as the list of biopics made there seems to just go on endlessly. Some movies that I consider to be my all time favourites are The Iron Lady (on Margaret Thatcher), Ray (on the visually challenged musician Ray Charles), Braveheart (on a Scottish freedom fighter), I’m Not There (on Bob Dylan), Ali (on Muhammed Ali), Elizabeth (the queen of England), Man on the Moon (on Andy Kaufman), Hitchcock (on the celebrated filmmaker), Invictus (on the legendary Nelson Mandela), Erin Brockovich (the environmentalist), Lovelace (on the life of porn star Linda Lovelace), Jobs (on Steve Jobs), The Social Network (on Mark Zuckerberg) and The Aviator, among others.

With the biopic fever going strong in our country, many such movies are getting ready to hit screens soon. The most expected of these movies are Ramanujam – on the life of the mathematical genius, Rudramadevi – on the life of the Kakatiya queen Rani Rudrama Devi, the biopic on boxer Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra, the Akshay Kumar starrer on the life story of the talented wrestler Dara Singh and the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Bombay Fairy Tale – on the first Indian to make an airplane.
News doing the rounds is that filmmakers are also getting set to make movies on the lives of famous hockey player Dhyan Chand, the slain leader of the LTTE – Velupillai Prabhakaran, Charles Sobhraj – serial killer, Social reformer Basavanna, Sivarasan – an assassin involved in the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, Umesh Reddy – serial rapist and many others too …

Though the win-loss ratio of biopics in Indian cinema does not look too healthy in numbers, the success of recent releases like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and The Dirty Picture sure show that we are well on track to accepting this genre of films too…

– Vicky

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