Spinning Biopics

Biographical films in the Hindi film industry are just another thing; they don’t go by any official autobiography. They concoct their own script. As a matter of fact, few actors indulge in autobiographies because you can’t be a tell all.

Sanju, the film, is one such case. The film, avoids just about everything that the makers should have shown. The film gives a Ganga wash to all the protagonist’s deeds which, eventually, landed him in jail. Finally, the film emerges as a massive exercise to paint the character as a washed in the wool, innocent bystander, who got swayed in the tide in 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. The film also avoids his uneasy relationship with his father.

This is not a biopic, period. The film is an effort to dry-clean the multifaceted life of Sunjay Dutt and present it and him in a positive light.

The question is, does it work? If you go by the box office collections, it works because so many have already watched the film and many more want to watch the film to know what it is it is all about; some even want to watch it because they don’t want be left out when it is discussed on the social media. There is a lot of artificial audience created thanks to the social media.

Even in a country like the United States where the society is free and people accept any and everything, biographies never tell the true story. In India, bio films are a new phenomenon. But, in most cases Indian biopics are scripted, not based on any written account.

Even in the USA, there are various kinds of biographies. The real ones from the person’s narration, authorised biographies which are mostly PR stuff and those written by journalists and hanger ons who just spin a life account of a celebrity.

In India, few people as in celebrities pen autobiographies. The greatest showman did not. Raj Kapoor’s was penned by his Public Relations man, Bunny Reuben, who was sued for using pictures of a still photographer without permition or payment. Dilip Kumar’s was penned by journalist, Udaya Tara Nayar, who herself and her father were close to the thespian. (In Hindi film industry, being close is a very subjective term.)

Biopics were never a favourite with Indians. Because, we had no biography worth telling.  There have been films like Dr Kotnis KI Amar Kahani (1946), a film by celebrated filmmaker, V Shantaram. But, that was a different era. Even if people did not watch a film for its protagonist, they watched to honour the reputation of the filmmaker behind a project. Also, in those days people did not find films boring. In fact, if a film was shorter in duration, they felt cheated. Film going was a three hour affair!

But then, the new generations found a few stories of people who did not win but strived. Paan Singh Tomar (2011) was a trendsetter because it was a biopic about an unsung hero. About an Indian Army soldier turned bandit turned a racer.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag followed in 2013. He was a loser internationally. The film was as boring as reading a biography of Milkha Singh. But, the filmmakers did something that this boring film worked. They added patriotism! Milkha may have lost all over the world but he beat his Pakistani counterpart in Pakistan and the then dictator dubbed him the ‘Flying Sikh’. But, the film managed some good footfalls while the media did the rest to brand it a hit.

Patriotism also did wonders for Aamir Khan’s Dangal. The story of wrestlers, Phogat sister. Those who have seen the film will realise how Aamir Khan, banished from the arena, learns of the victory of the Indian wrestler as the National Anthem is being played.

Making a film on a living legend and one still active in his field is catching up now. M S Dhoni: The Untold Story, went well with the moviegoers. After all, Indian cricket has never had one like M S Dhoni, a small town boy who made it big with his hard work. The film was not in first person, it was a well narrated life of Dhoni. Juxtapose this to the Sachin Tendulkar film, Sachin: A Billion Dreams. It was more about self-pity and self-glory in first person, Sachin’s own voice. Looked like the public did not want any of it. Some celebrities have this thing about wallowing in their poor past. Some of our film stars did, too.

The biopic trend was set up with films on freedom fighters. But, except for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, almost all failed badly.  Gandhi, too, was a limited success. The films on Nehru, Sardar Patel, Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Subhash Chandrra Bose, as well as the recent one on Anna Hazare, were all wasted efforts.

There were some films made on the gangsters of Mumbai underworld. Underworld for Mumbai gangsters was a misnomer because they were more in news and on the scene than in common man’s life. Some of them were based on the real-time gangsters. Films like Dayavan, Shootout At Lokhandwala, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Shootout At Wadala, Black Friday and such tried to glorify the existence and valour of goons and shooters. People did not care. There was one decent film in gangster genre, D Day, a fictional story of Indian agents’ attempt to kidnap Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan. Despite its gripping narration and tory, the film failed badly. The story’s very base was implausible; seemingly, a lot many people did not want him back in India nor did the people believe he could be kidnapped.

But, the recent attempts trying to glorify persons with criminal background who faced jail sentence is the talk of social media.

Shah Rukh Khan starred in Raees last year. It was a film glorifying and depicting as normal human being, the Ahmedabad based goon, Abdul Latif, who took to bootlegging and graduated to murders and organising communal riots in this city. That the film was based on Latif was denied by the makers. The claim that the film met with critical and commercial success does not hold true either. It was, as such films are described by the common man—a flop. So much so that, the film’s distributors had requested for compensation (Salman Khan had obliged to an extent for his Tubelight), and the media reported that Shah Rukh Khan hds agreed to compensate but there is, so far, no report of him having done so!

Now, we have Sanju, a film based on the life of actor Sanjay Dutt (for a time, for the sake of numerology, his name was spelt Sunjay Dutt). Sanjay Dutt has inherited a lot of goodwill from his late parents, Nargis Dutt and Sunil Dutt. And, that has come to his aid most of the time. Whatever misdeeds he has indulged into in his life, people have been forgiving. Hence, his film was promoted with a catch line: “Its True Story” with various self-confessing claims like: Did Drugs, begged for bus fare, womanised and so on.

People are flocking to the cinema halls. The film should do 200 crore in its very first week.

But, what people are disappointed with hiding the vital/ gory truths. They are unhappy with Rajkumar Hirani who has, this time been more loyal to the actor whose biography he meant to tell than to his audience. This once too, Hirani’s film is raking in money but he has not been totally honest to his fans who expect much from his films

@ The Box Office

*Sanju is the solo release from last Friday and the film’s collections are just mindboggling. For a non-festival release, it is proves that you don’t always need an Eid or Diwali release if your film has aroused enough curiosity.

The film opened with 33.5 crore on Friday, increased to over 38 crore on Saturday and reached the peak of 46.5 crore Sunday. The new week drop from Monday onwards has been limited. Having collected 118.9 crore for its opening weekend, the film should end it first week with about 200 crore.

*Race, which has started sliding down after its Eid opening weekend has just about come to an end of its run in its third week. The film lacked in content and, the release of Sanju has done the rest. The film is expected to close its three week tally with 166.5 crore.