WHY THIS FLOOD OF BIOPICS?
Cinema for long has been in search of public icons to assert its own longevity. In a country with a long and continuous history of blood and battle, of assaults by various religions, culinary tastes and scripts, the Indian reader has not been able to home into an idol of his choice. Most of us have fallen back to the age of mythology and cast ourselves in line with the best qualities of Lord Ram, Krishna and Shiva. At the time of the birth of cinema in India, it also did the search for its own idols.
But contemporary Indian cinema has opened itself to search for the alternate heroes of our race, to extend the choice of whom we should imitate. It was a risk worth taking. The trend first started in USA, from the pioneering film Joan of Arc (1900) and moved to 1921 with the making of Disraeli which was repeated in1929. The Indian talkies first tried recalling some incidents from modern history because the incidents were well etched in recent memory of the audiences. A film like Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani(1946,1948)raised no objections expect from the ruling British administration which banned it as soon as it was released. The film was again released after India attained independence. But in the meanwhile film writers and directors began to take up other subjects of social concern on widow remarriage, educating the girl child resettlement of prostitutes, communal amity, national reconstruction etc. Finally like a bad coin, the biopic made its re-appearance.
I would prefer to make a guess that the return of the biopic in Indian cinema was a foreign inspiration. Paul Muni acted Louise Pasteur the scientist, in The Story of Louise Pasteur a film made in 1936, which was screened in India. My search for the seed of biopics took me back into time, and stopped in 1923. It was here that the first Indian biopoic took shape and Razia Sultan was made. Myth says , it was made by D.N.Ganguly ,but the fact was, Ganguly had acquired the rights to screen the fi lm in the territory of the Nizam, but the fi lm was made in Bombay .When the Nizam came to know that a film on a Muslim woman ruler was to be screened ,he sent a warning to Ganguly to desist from screening this fi lm.Ganguly persisted and the Nizam had Ganguly thrown out of the State within 48 hours. Razia was buried again for a long time and in the meanwhile other Indian dignitaries filled the void.
It was in the same year of 1923, that another biopic was made Chintamani which was repeated in 1937.
In Indian cinema we have a local example against Joan of Arc and she is Joymati, an Assamese princess on whom the first Assamese film was made in 1935 with the same name. There after other regional cinemas in the country took cue. Tamil cinema made Nandanar(1942).
Taking up the making of biopics seems to be a safe bet for film makers. The choice of the subject is a personality from the pages of history or newspapers; never a common man. This ensured that any investment made gave its returns, B.R Ambetkar has been in films for nine times, and still remained unknown cinematically. Bhagat Singh has been central to the theme five times. It is Mahatma Gandhi who has walked in films on nineteen occasions, and probably this is a world record. In all till now, over 279 biopics have been made in Indian cinema and the gates are open for more films being made in future.
But India cinema can be credited with specializing on one theme alone and create it as a new genre in world cinema. This is the sport films. While a British film studio may have made some really great films in the past like Chariots of Fire for athletics, Hollywood having made the Rambo series or Karate Kid or Hungary having made Two Halftimes for Hell for football, these films have come after long gaps in time, and while they remained standouts, their national cinemas did not create a genre.
Indian cinema started with fictional stories with sports in the background. A film with a cricket background was made called in 1959 titled, Love Marriage with Dev Anand playing a celebrated cricketer. Prakash Jha debuted with Hip Hip Hurry in 1984 about a football coach who takes his wards to a field victory. Bengal two films Kony (swimming) and Goal (football) were made.
Then followed a flood of films at regular intervals, some excellent and some good. I will not list them go in chronological order but allow you the pleasure to recall the names and see how many of these films were patronized by you. We can start with athletic running and you have Bhag Milkha Bhag, Paan Singh Tomar, and Born to Run based on the life of the sub teenager Budhia Singh. Amateur boxing found its patrons in Boxer, Aryan, Medal and of course Mary Kom. Biopics became prominent with a replay in Hockey in films like Chak De India and Gold. The rush continued with Yellow (handicapped swimming) Iqbal (deaf and cricket) and some way out games like golf (Freaky Ali), and race cycling (Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar).
The last decade of this century found celebrated cricket personalities take centre stage in films. We had Azhar, Sachin, and M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story. We all know Dara Singh the free style wrestler. He made his film debut in a forgotten film Pahali Jhalak which featured Vyjanthimala and Om Prakash. Before that, Indian cinema always welcomed wrestlers as heroes. In the Silent era we had Raja Sandow and later in the era of the ‘talkies’, Jairaj and Master Vinayak held centre stage. But the advent of Dara Singh brought in wrestling as a sport and in film Pahali Jhalak, Dara Singh wrestled with Om Prakash with disastrous results!!
If we were looking for icons, than in film Sultan we found a fictional personality and in real-life in Dangal, an epic of a film with a breakaway theme of women in wrestling. Indeed when it comes to be patriotic, pay homage to a real life character and make pots of money, there is nothing to beat film Dangal. The film incidentally carried in real time the Indian flag into deep modern China, leading to some clone efforts too.
We are now on the threshold of new daring attempts to make films on modern Indian icons. Some one has made a film on Sanjay Dutt called Sanju; some one has made a film on the sultry actress Silk Smitha, called The Dirty Pictures. Earlier, Shyam Bengal made three biopics Bhumika , Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, and Zubaida . The Father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke was remembered in Harishchandra Chi Factory. Now Some one else wants to make a film on Indira Gandhi and I say ‘good luck to him’. But I would rather put my bet on another film with a brighter future to see the daylight, and that is The Accidental Prime Minister.
Perhaps you may be aware of this gentleman.