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Bollywood’s uneasy tryst with biopics on film celebrities

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-07-2017 Lata Jha

Early next year, Ranbir Kapoor will bring alive the tumultuous life of actor Sanjay Dutt on screen. The untitled biopic, slated for release on 30 March and to be directed by Rajkumar Hirani, will see Kapoor depict the struggle that Dutt has undergone, right from his mother’s death, drug addiction, failed marriage and imprisonment.

Soon after, Akshay Kumar will play T-Series music tycoon late Gulshan Kumar in a film called Mogul to be helmed by Jolly LLB 2 director Subhash Kapoor and co-produced by the music label.

Last year, the life of veteran actor Bhagwan Dada was presented in Marathi film Ekk Albela, continuing the trend that began with outings such as The Dirty Picture (2011), the Vidya Balan-starrer based on south Indian actor Silk Smitha. Director Anurag Basu has also shown interest in making a film on the life of legendary actor-singer Kishore Kumar, though he hasn’t finalized the cast yet.

Some industry experts attribute the trend to the broader appetite for biopics.

“I’ve always maintained that people are trapped in history,” said Rajat Arora, writer of The Dirty Picture. “These biopics have opened a genre in India. Whether it’s on a sports or film personality, they are such interesting and great people that they all make for amazing stories. I’m sure the upcoming films will inspire others to emulate them.”

To be sure, the instant gloss and glamour associated with cinema doesn’t make for easy filmmaking.

“The appeal of biopics on movie celebrities lies in the fact that you’re writing on a story quite famous already. Even if the actor (playing the character) is not known, the subject of the film would be known,” said film author Nasreen Munni Kabir. “But with film people, you’ve got a big problem, there is a whole association with the face, manner and voice of the original actor. So it’s more difficult to do and a bigger challenge for the director, like in case of a Kishore Kumar or Sanjay Dutt, everybody knows what they look and talk like.”

But it makes for great curiosity for the audience if the story is multi-layered, Kabir added. With his turbulent marriage, drug addiction and imprisonment, Dutt makes for a great story. As does Gulshan Kumar who rose to establishing the music empire from a modest juice shop in Delhi and was shot dead in 1997 in Mumbai.

“The reason most movies on the movie industry don’t work is people don’t like to break the illusion. I’m not sure if audiences care about the nitty-gritty of production or the problems of the industry,” Kabir said. “They’d rather have a story that they can relate to. It’s not good enough if the actor is famous, he or she has to have a dramatic story in his life. I think people like Sanjay Dutt and Gulshan Kumar have a story outside of their film career. Dutt’s drug problem, mother’s death, getting into jail, all these are layers of story and drama. Whether he was an actor or a cricketer wouldn’t have mattered, the fact is there are so many things happening to him,” she said.

To be sure, like with any other biopic, those on movie celebrities run the risk of eulogizing them rather than presenting the entire picture with shades of grey, a point evolved audiences of today are likely to appreciate, Kabir said. Unlike a documentary like Sachin: A Billion Dreams that allows people to make up their own mind, feature films have to take a clear and pronounced stand.

“There are many people involved (in these stories), some are okay with it, some are not. My own mother wasn’t, for instance. But we convinced her,” said Bhushan Kumar, son of Gulshan Kumar and chairman and managing director, T-Series. “Some creative liberty is being taken (in Mogul), there are some things our family doesn’t want to talk about, they aren’t controversial, just emotional. We are showing what was happening, but not exactly the way it did.”

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