The Mancunion

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Feature: Biopics in Bollywood

Mritunjay Sharma explores the tradition of biopic films in Bollywood


In a Bollywood of more than 100 years, biopics are not a new trend. One of the oldest and most highly critically acclaimed biopic made in Bollywood was Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis is Amar Kahani (The eternal tale of Dr. Kotnis), made in 1946 by veteran director V. Shantaram.

It was based on the accounts of Dr. Kotnis, who was sent to China during the second world war to provide medical assistance to the troops fighting the Japanese army. The biopics made in Bollywood were, for a long time, an indie film affair. These films were real and honest and never shied away from being mundane in order to depict the real life.

The best example of one such indie film is Bandit Queen made by Shekhar Kapur in 1996. The film was based on the life of Pholan Devi who was a dacoit. The film was set in real locations with real people and explored various layers of Indian society, it also delineates the condition of woman in a rural setting. These kind of films were made once in a while on shoestring budgets. The low budget always affected the aesthetics of the film but the soul in these films was always alive.

In past few years there has been an upsurge of biopics in Bollywood. These films have great budgets and big film stars play lead roles. The most recent examples are MS Dhoni : The Untold Story, Dangal, Azhar, Mary Kom and Bhag Milkha Bhag.

These films are made by the biggest directors and played by the big stars with big budgets. But, in order to recover the money they invested, the films adulterate the story with fiction. However even fiction is fine but what is unacceptable is the addition of irrationality in the story.

The films start on a real premise but by the end of the film we can see the divergence of the plot to an illogical and baseless ending. Although, these big films have been a really big disappointment, the independent biopics have not only made sure that the films are honest but also made sure that the art of the film is not at all compromised.

In this category the films which were commercially as well as critically acclaimed were Neerja, Shaheed, Pan Singh Tomar, Manjunath, Rang Rasiya and the most hailed out of all these Aligarh.

Aligarh is a film made by Hansal Mehta in 2016. It was based on the Dr. Shrinivas Siras, who was sacked from his position of reader and chair of Modern Indian Languages because of his sexual orientation. The film had its world premier at Busan International film festival and its European premier at London film festival.