In 2015, films such as Badlapur, Baby and Talvar apparently took inspiration from real-life incidents and people. But what started as a trickle last year flooded the box office in 2016, as a number of ‘real’ films hit the bullseye at ticket windows. So, while the year kicked off with Airlift (inspired by the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion under Saddam Hussein’s reign), 2016 also witnessed the release of back-to-back movies that revolved around real-life incidents, including Neerja (based on the late air hostess Neerja Bhanot) and Rustom (based on the life of naval officer KM Nanavati, who murdered businessman Prem Ahuja for having an affair with his wife).
“The biggest USP with such films is that they are about real people. Look around and you will find so many such inspirational stories. And if those stories get made in an interesting and entertaining format, then the sky is the limit,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh, adding that it’s heartening to see “our film-makers getting real”.
That’s not all. 2016 witnessed another category of successful ‘real’ films — Happy Bhag Jayegi (set in the background of cross-border Indo-Pak tension), MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (a biopic on the Indian cricket captain, MS Dhoni), Aligarh (based on an Aligarh Muslim University professor, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was discriminated against due to his sexual orientation), Udta Punjab (based on drug abuse in Punjab), Raman Raghav 2.0 (the deranged, real-life serial killer of the ’60s) and Sarbjit (based on the slain Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, and his sister’s struggle for his release), among others.
In the latest instance, the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal (based on ex-wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat’s struggles to make his daughters world-class wrestlers) is on its way to become one of the biggest blockbusters of Hindi cinema.
Watch Jolly LLB 2 trailer
Akshay, who starred in ‘real’ films such as Airlift, Baby, Rustom and Special 26 (2013), says he finds “real stories extremely fascinating”. He adds, “You may have heard or read about real incidents or historical events, but watching them visually on screen is interesting. For instance, if I were to show you how Shivaji (Maratha warrior) fought valiantly in wars in a movie, you would be more interested [in him].”
Interestingly, it looks like Bollywood’s fascination with real life will continue in 2017 too. So, while Akshay stars in Jolly LLB 2 (based on several true events), Kangana Ranaut stars in Simran (reportedly based on an Indian girl in the US, who gets embroiled in the world of crime).
Director Raja Krishna Menon, who directed Airlift last year, says that with real stories, the “storytelling technique becomes very identifiable”. “Also, the narrative style becomes very clean and structured. So, the construction of such stories is similar to the way we hear tales at home from our elders, with a clear starting point, midpoint and climax,” he says.
2017 will also see Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh play Rani Padmini, Rawal Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji respectively, in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati. Even Arjun Rampal has completed the shooting of Daddy, which is based on don-politician, Arun Gawli’s life. “Hindi film-makers have joined the bandwagon very late. Real life stories have been frequently picked up in Hollywood and even in Iranian and Chinese films. You can easily relate and identify with them. The only trick is to make them in an engaging and entertaining manner,” says film exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi.
The list also includes Rangoon, a romance drama set during World War II; Salman Khan’s Tubelight, which unfolds at the time of the Indo-China war of 1962 and Battle of Saragarhi, based on how 21 Sikh soldiers valiantly fought a formidable opposition — 10,000 Afghan soldiers. Plus, Ranbir Kapoor is set to play Sanjay Dutt in the latter’s biopic, while Shraddha Kapoor will portray don Dawood Ibrahim’s sister, Haseena Parkar in Haseena.
Adarsh puts thing in perspective. “Our masala Hindi films will always survive but success of real stories proves that our audiences are receptive to newer ideas and stories,” he says.