Till a few years ago, biopics were not exactly a filmmaker’s favourite genre. The risk and the ensuing controversies surrounding a film based on a real personality was too much to take. Even the audiences did not seem keen to watch a biopic, specially based on a historical figure. But all that seems to be changing now. The success of The Dirty Picture loosely based on South sex symbol Silk Smitha and Paan Singh Tomar that depicted the life of the athlete-turned-dacoit has spawned the trend for biopics.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is making a film based on ‘flying sikh’ Milkha Singh (played by Farhan Akhtar) while Sanjay Leela Bhansali has announced a film on boxing champ Mary Kom. After winning the National Award for his biopic Sindhutai Sapkal, Ananth Mahadevan is onto his next based on Gaur Haridas, a freedom fighter and is in talks for a third one on India’s first lady doctor Rukhmabai. Anurag Basu is making a film on Kishore Kumar with Ranbir Kapoor essaying the colourful personality. Ketan Mehta’s film based on painter Raja Ravi Verma is yet to release, but he is ready to roll his next one Mountain Man that will chronicle the life of Dasrath Manji, who single-handedly carved a road by the mountain side with a chisel and hammer for 22 years.
Point out that biopics like Mangal Pandey do not have a great track-record at the box-office and Mehta says, “All films are not done keeping in mind commercial considerations.” Agrees Mahadevan, “Unfortunately the Rs 100-crore club has become the new ‘silver jubilee’ and everyone is fighting for that. But you have to understand that every film has its audience. My film is made on a budget of Rs 3-4 crores and if it makes even Rs 5 crores it is good enough.”
Tigmanshu Dhulia, who after Paan Singh is planning to make a film on the courtesan turned ruler Begum Sumroo, hits the nail on the head saying that the reason biopics fail at the BO is that filmmakers look at the subject with a lot of reverence. “They forget the drama and concentrate on the period. The clothes, the car, the roads of that era are given importance, which is good but that’s not enough. Just because you are making a film on Bhagat Singh, Gandhi or Subhash Chandra Bose doesn’t make it interesting, you have to make it interesting. For instance, in Shyam Benegal’s Subhash Chandra Bose, the director recreated the era very well, but the drama was missing. I respect Shyamji as a filmmaker and he is a great inspiration but Subhash Chandra was a boring film,” he says.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says it’s a myth that biopics have no takers. “Filmmakers shy away only to avoid hassles of seeking permission from the people who are close to the personality.”
However, filmmakers and actors are now going that extra mile to make things official and present an authentic biopic. With Mary Kom guiding the scripting of the film based on her and Farhan meeting Milkha to familiarise himself with the personality, things can’t go wrong, can they?