Bollywood biopics: Is it easy (or not) for filmmakers when the real person is alive?
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Bollywood biopics: Is it easy (or not) for filmmakers when the real person is alive?

Actors like Akshay Kumar, Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, and Arjun Rampal, and directors such as R Balki, Rajkumar Hirani, and Anurag Basu are all into biopics. We explore the pressure on a film team when the subject of their biopic is alive, or otherwise.

bollywood Updated: Oct 25, 2017 17:21 IST
Shreya Mukherjee
Shreya Mukherjee
Hindustan Times
Biopic,Bollywood,Ranbir Kapoor
Badminton ace Saina Nehwal’s role is being played by Shraddha Kapoor in the upcoming biopic on the champion.

Bollywood is riding the biopic wave. And several of these (released; on the floors; planned) are about people who’re still alive — actor Sanjay Dutt; gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli; badminton champions Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. It makes one wonder what the challenges are when the subject of the biopic is among us, giving viewers a clear point of reference and, perhaps, putting more pressure on the filmmakers.

“The level of responsibility towards fulfilling the commitment of staying close to proper facts becomes high,” says Arjun Rampal, who played Gawli in the recently released biopic, Daddy. “[The facts and character traits are] something that one has to research properly, understand, and try to get as close as possible. But at the same time, one needs to make it entertaining, because it’s a film at the end of the day. Maintaining this balance is a challenge for filmmakers and even for the actor.”

Arjun shares that it wasn’t a cakewalk to play Gawli. “He isn’t someone I could go and just sit with every day. He’s in jail and serving a term. I met him quite a few times and in those three to four meetings, I tried to know him as a person,” says the actor. “Also, I feel that allowing a biopic to be made on your life requires guts. Everybody wants a movie made on them, but there are certain things that they always want from it.” Not to forget the legal issues to be tackled. Before Daddy saw the light of day, many people had started raising questions, which needed to be taken care of, says Arjun.

Actor Anupam Kher (right) will essay the role of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Anand Kumar, the mathematician famous for his work in the innovative education programme Super 30, is having a biopic being made on him by Vikas Bahl. “Getting the mannerism and expression right is very important, so that one becomes the mirror image of the [real-life person] he or she is portraying. It’s not fiction, where you can do anything. That’s why Vikas Bahl is constantly in touch with me to understand my personality better,” says Anand.

Upcoming biopics
  • Anupam Kher plays former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s film
  • Boman Irani is cast as Nobel laureate and social activist Kailash Satyarthi in Brahmanand Singh’s Jhalki
  • Ranbir Kapoor appears as veteran Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt in Rajkumar Hirani’s film
  • Akshay Kumar as social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham in R Balki’s Padman
  • Hrithik Roshan as Super 30 hero (mathematician) Anand Kumar in Vikas Bahl’s next film
  • Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev in ’83, the film on Team India’s World Cup triumph in 1983
  • Shradhha Kapoor as ace badminton player Saina Nehwal in Amole Gupte’s film

But Anurag Basu, who’s working on a biopic on music legend Kishore Kumar, with Ranbir Kapoor playing the singer, believes that it’s easier if the subject of the biopic is alive. Anurag points out, “For the Kishore Kumar biopic, I’m heavily dependent on interviews and versions of people associated with him. Nobody knows why he did something and in a certain way. Such inputs [had Kishore been alive] would have added to the film.”

Actor Akshay Kumar in a poster from R Balki’s Padman, based on the life of social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham.

When it’s a film, a little bit of liberty makes it all the more interesting, feels R Balki. “I need to be respectful to the person on whom I’m making a film. But a little liberty is acceptable when it adds to the life of the person,” he says, adding that at times, the person alive can add a few things to make the film more interesting. Balki is making a biopic on social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, and the filmmaker says, “Arunachalam not only liked what he saw, but while watching a few portions [of the film], he said he wished he lived them in real life.”

Actor Ranbir Kapoor’s look (right) from his upcoming film, which is a biopic on Sanjay Dutt.

Film critic Atul Mohan takes the middle path on the trend, saying, “No doubt the situation becomes tricky when the biopic is based on popular personalities who are alive. Filmmakers need to be as authentic and careful as possible, as the memories of these people are fresh in the audience’s mind.”

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First Published: Oct 25, 2017 17:10 IST