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A legendry character, historical or contemporary, recreated in a gritty, exciting tale in a film, is emerging a new favourite for Bollywood studios chasing commercial success. With the recent success of biographical films, or ‘biopics’, such as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Paan Singh Tomar and The Dirty Picture, Bollywood filmmakers are enthusiastic about the genre’s acceptance by viewers.
Under production are several biopics – The Champ, Main Aur Charles, NaMo, and The Man Who Knew Infinity. Also coming up, reportedly, are biopics on Sarabjit Singh (played by Anurag Sinha); Mohammad Azharuddin (Emraan Hashmi); Kishore Kumar (Ranbir Kapoor); Dara Singh (Akshay Kumar); MS Subbhulakshmi (Vidya Balan); Dhyan Chand (Shah Rukh Khan); and a biopic on magician PC Sorcar.
UTV Disney is working on a biopic of two Indian female athletes who did India proud at the Commonwealth Games. Percept Pictures has one coming up on two politicians.
Manjunath, a biopic on young IIM-Lucknow graduate Manjunath Shanmugham, who fought the fuel mafia in Uttar Pradesh and was killed in 2005, was released this month by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, which is also gearing up to release Mary Kom (played by Priyanka Chopra) soon.
Is there room in the Indian viewers’ film appetite for so many biopics? Not all biopics have done well. The Legend of Bhagat Singh (Ajay Devgan; 2002); Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004) on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose; and Gandhi My Father (2007), on Mahatma Gandhi’s oldest son, Harilal, did poorly.
Production houses and film trade analysts, however, claim that viewers are now responding well to biopics.
Said Amar Butala, creative director, studios - Disney India, which produces films under UTV: “Both Paan Singh Tomar and No One Killed Jessica saw dream runs at the box office. If there is an awe inspiring story and if we can take it, remain true to it, and yet keep the film entertaining, there is an audience for it. We are also working on a Kishore Kumar biopic.”
Bollywood has made biopics earlier, but new age story-telling has infused strength into the format. “Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and Manoj Kumar’s Bhagat Singh were successful. Phoolan Devi was critically acclaimed,” said Prahlad Kakkar, ad-film maker. “However, new age story telling, colours and production houses have infused strength into the format, making it more commercially viable.”
“The shortage of good scripts is also growing the genre,” said Abhishek Nayar, head, marketing, Percept Pictures.
“Biopic is a safer format as it is relatable and has a definite structure,” said Jehil Thakkar, head, media and entertainment, KPMG. “Though legal implications, scripts and research need care, biopics provide readymade stories.”
“With the quality of narration going up, the chances of success are big with biopics,” said film trade analyst Amar Kulkarni.