Would it be Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika or the Balasaheb Thackeray bio-pic this week?
Biopics are a dicey proposition in India. They never tell the truth. They are made with the express purpose of glorifying the subject. Last year the Sanjay Dutt “biopic” (the inverted commas are deliberate) was an embarrassment portraying as it did the TADA convict as some kind of a benign affable Don Juan. Womanizing and shooting (we aren’t talking about films) never looked more recreational.
Can it get any worse this year? We will soon know. This Friday there is the Shiv Sena chief, the larger-than-life Bal Thackeray and the eternally valorised Rani Laxmibai hitting the screen simultaneously. We wonder how the two would have responded to one another if they had ever met. The first is funded by Mr Thackeray’s party. The second is funded by a besotted mesmerized spellbound producer who has gone along with the vision of one woman who was determined to have her way in bringing Rani Laxmibai to the screen.
Both are almost certainly exercises in glorifying the subject. While Thackeray has been made to glorify not the actor playing Thackeray, Manikarnika is all about its leading lady.
Sources from within the Manikarnika team say Kangana hopes to get the kind of everlasting fame with Manikarnika that Nargis got with Mother India.
We can’t have flawless legends on screen no matter how iconic they are. Everyone has flaws. Even Jesus Christ. In Sarkar Ram, Gopal Varma had portrayed Bal Thackeray as a human messiah, warts and all. Biopics in our country make the fatal error of being in awe of its subject matter. The recent The Accidental Prime Minister turned the former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s weaknesses into some kind of a negative virtue. Anupam Kher brought to the performance a tremulous compassion and an endearing vulnerability. But the film didn’t tell us anything about Dr Singh that we wanted to know.
There is a LOT one wants to know about the magnetic Mr Thackeray, though. What made him such a powerful orator? How did those priceless retorts and one-liners come to him so effortlessly? How did he command the extra-constitutional rights of a proxy leader? What were his fears and nightmares when he was alone away from his devotees?
Nawazuddin is an actor who has the ability to delve into his characters’ darkest recesses. He has shown us the innermost anxieties of Raman Raghav and Manto. In Thackeray, he would be most decidedly able to explore the mythic man’s inner world provided he has been allowed to.
The makers of Thackeray may not be interested in letting the world know the real Thackeray. The myth behind the man and not the reverse is the goal here. Propagandist cinema never had it better in our cinema.
One hopes and prays that the two biopics this week would offer us a chance to get closer to the enigmatic political figures who in different eras, commanded an inestimable following. But that’s perhaps too much to ask. Bio-pics as a genre suffer from seriously exaggerated heroism and bravado in our cinema. If you want to see the real man, wait for a foreigner to make a film on Thackeray or Rani Laxmibai. No Indian filmmaker has done to Mahatma Gandhi what Richard Attenborough and Ben Kinsley did.
Humanizing a legend is also a form of immorality. We will never know that. We are too blinded by idol worship to consider the flaws.