Bollywood gets personal with a bevy of biopics | bollywood | Hindustan Times
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Bollywood gets personal with a bevy of biopics

From underworld figures and political activists to famous artists and star athletes, Bollywood is going biographical with a series of films based on, or inspired by, real lives.

bollywood Updated: Aug 02, 2010 18:07 IST

From underworld figures and political activists to famous artists and star athletes, Bollywood is going biographical with a series of films based on, or inspired by, real lives.

The first to hit screens is Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, a thriller set in the 1970s about a power struggle between two gangsters, complete with big hair, even bigger moustaches, wing-collar shirts and flares.

But the film starring Ajay Devgn and Emraan Hashmi has already run into controversy, with an attempt by the adopted son of smuggling don Haji Mastan Mirza to block its release until he has seen a preview.

Sunder Shekhar said: "The film's publicity by the makers saying that it was based on Mastan's life, showing him to be a gangster, was defaming.

"Mastan was a social worker and looked up to as a godfather by the needy and a financial benefactor to many families."

The Bombay High Court this week ruled against him but ordered the film's producers to issue a statement saying it was "purely a work of fiction and the characters in the film are fictional".

Director Milan Luthria had previously said that the biopic genre -- whether wholly, partially-based on or inspired by real characters -- had its potential pitfalls.

"Biopics are a huge responsibility," he told the Hindustan Times newspaper recently. "A person's entire character depends on you. You can make or break a person with your imagery and that is very tricky."

The chief creative officer at UTV Motion Pictures, which is producing three biopics, also said it was a risky venture, particularly with surviving family members or other interested parties who may take issue with the portrayal.

"You also have to make sure you've done extensive research on the person because mistakes are very easily caught," said Vikas Behl.

Despite the dangers, Bollywood is giving the genre a go, hoping to not only revive the industry's flagging fortunes but also shed light on some of the country's most famous characters.

Other films set for release in the coming months include Baag Milkha Baag (Run, Milkha, Run), based on the life of India's most successful track athlete Milkha "The Flying Sikh" Singh.

Paan Singh Tomar starring A Mighty Heart and Slumdog Millionaire actor Irrfan Khan, is due out later this year, charting how a successful Indian army athlete turned deadly gang member.

Maverick director Ram Gopal Varma is making a film on the slain political leader Paritala Ravi, while a number of figures from Bollywood's "golden age" in the 1950s are also being lined up to have their lives laid bare.

They include Kishore Kumar, a famous movie singer of the 1960s and 1970s, and the actor-producer-director once referred to as "India's Orson Welles", Guru Dutt.

A biopic on Raja Ravi Varma, the 19th century Indian artist best known for his fusion of Indian and Western classical painting, is also in the pipeline.

Biography is not a departure for Bollywood. Freedom fighters like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Mangal Pandey as well as the tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani have all had films based or loosely-based on their lives.

But few have made an impact at the box office.

For many directors, biopics are a chance to shed light on the little-known lives of famous figures, albeit with some artistic licence.

Rakyesh Mehra, director of Baag Milkha Baag, though, has a simpler aim in his tale of the successful sprinter.

"The story of Milkha Singhji is very inspirational and I want to tell the youth of this country through my film," he said earlier this year.