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The Best Political Biopic? VOTE!

January 29, 2024 13:24 IST
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Atal Bihari Vajpayee's biopic Main Atal Hoon reveals the pitfalls of making films on political figures: The maker has to be careful not to offend any followers.

It often results in bland hagiographies, but some stories need to be told.

Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) remains an example of a well-made biopic, but then it was not an Indian film.

Deepa Gahlot lists Hindi biopics about Indian political leaders: Some worked, some did not, but they managed to avoid controversy.

The many films on Bhagat Singh and Sardar Udham are not included, simply because these young men, influential voices in the freedom struggle, unfortunately did not live long enough to be elevated to leadership roles.

Do vote for the best biopic at the end!


Sardar (1993)

Ketan Mehta directed this respectful biopic with Paresh Rawal playing the much-admired Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Madhu Limaye, the Socialist leader, reportedly did the first draft and Vijay Tendulkar, the master playwright and movie scenarist, co-wrote the screenplay with Hriday Lani.

The idea of making this film was to give Sardar his due place in history dominated by Gandhi and Nehru.

When the process of Independence from British rule was underway, he played a crucial role in uniting India's kingdoms into a nation. During Partition, he was the tough negotiator and also a voice of reason.

It is often said that a lot of problems India is facing today could have been prevented if Sardar's opinions were heeded.

A film worth seeking out and watching for those who want to catch up on contemporary history.


The Making of the Mahatma (1996)

Written by Fatima Meer and directed by Shyam Benegal, with Rajit Kapur playing the title role, this film could be seen as Mahatma Gandhi's origin story: What transformed Mohandas, a young lawyer, into India's most influential leader?

It was in South Africa, where the British-trained barrister went to settle a dispute for a client that he was confronted with the excesses of apartheid.

It was there that he began the struggle for human rights and eventually returned to India to lead the freedom movement, with his unique call for non-violence and civil disobedience.

A lot of the incidents in the film -- like the time Gandhi was thrown out of a first class train compartment -- are recorded in textbooks, but there are also parts of the story not widely known.


Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000)

Malayalam star Mammootty played Dr Ambedkar in Jabbar Patel's film, for which he won the National Award.

In the film written by Daya Pawar, Arun Sadhu and Sooni Taraporewala, Dr Patel told of Dr Ambedkar's fight against the caste system, his remarkable rise as a lawyer and finally his role in writing the Constitution of India.

Making a film on a man who has millions of followers must have involved walking on eggshells, but Dr Patel made a film the great personality deserved.


Veer Savarkar (2001)

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is now a more controversial figure than he was during his lifetime.

Directed by Ved Rahi, the film had Shailendra Gaur playing Savarkar.

For his revolutionary writings and anti-British activities, he was sentenced to solitary confinement in the Andaman jail.

Later, he became a proponent of a Hindu Rashtra and was opposed to Mahatma Gandhi and the conditions that resulted in Partition.

The crowd-funded film had a limited release, but got positive reviews.

Another Savarkar biopic is in the works with Randeep Hooda directing and playing the lead.


Loknayak (2004)

This little known film about Jayaprakash Narayan, directed by Prakash Jha, is a dutiful tribute to the leader who once took on the might of Indira Gandhi.

Post the Emergency, he rallied around a bunch of leaders who formed a coalition, the Janata Party, that defeated the Congress and Indira Gandhi in the ensuing elections.

Chetan Pandit played JP and Tisca Chopra his wife Prabhavati in the bland film, which was stymied by the low budget and possibly by the interference of officialdom.


Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005)

Shyam Benegal's film with Sachin Khedekar in the role of the charismatic leader of the freedom struggle, who enlisted an army to fight the British, records all the well-known incidents from Netaji's life.

There are a lot of fascinating stories of his leadership qualities that won him loyal followers willing to march through the jungles for him.

The film is detailed but dull as a school textbook, while legends built around Netaji still keep popping up.


Thackeray (2019)

The life of Balasaheb Thackeray, one of Maharashtra's most powerful leaders, is meant for cinema.

Starting his working life as a cartoonist, Thackeray (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) quit his job with a newspaper when asked to tone down his political cartoons. He notes that Maharashtrians are discriminated against in their native land by 'outsiders' and makes his Marathi Manoos plank a springboard for forming the Shiv Sena and becoming a loud, vocal and often violent upholder of the son-of-the-soil sloganeering.

The well-made film covers many of the recorded instances from the leader's controversial political life, and his say-it-like-it-is fiery oratory.

A fictional version of his story was used by Ram Gopal Varma for his three Sarkar films.


PM Narendra Modi (2019)

Omung Kumar's film, starring Vivek Anand Oberoi, could not be anything but flattering to its subject.

It focuses on well known aspects of the current PM's life, from his humble beginnings as a tea-seller to his rise in regional politics and eventually, his landslide victory and ascension to the PM's chair.

It must have been made with the approval of the PM and the BJP, so there is not a whiff of questioning or criticism.

Made for fans and supporters, the film serves its purpose.


The Accidental Prime Minister (2019)

Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's biopic of former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh is an adaptation of Sanjay Baru's memoir of the same name.

It was a clumsy attempt to take potshots at the Gandhi family and the Congress Party, by making Dr Singh (played by Anupam Kher) appear like a ridiculous puppet.

The story, seen from the point of view of Baru (Akshaye Khanna), who became Dr Singh's media adviser, is about the shark tank that politics is, and how he had to keep steering a weak PM to safe waters.

With his economic acumen, Dr Singh brought about a wide-ranging policy reforms, for which he ought to be given more credit with a better film.


Thalaivii (2021)

Kangana Ranaut plays J Jayalalithaa in A L Vijay's biographical drama, with Arvind Swami playing actor-politician M G Ramachandran.

The film followed Jayalalithaa from her days as an actress, to becoming a politician and eventually the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, a position she held for 14 years.

Hers was a life stranger than fiction and the film captures some of that colour and scandal, but remains mostly insipid.

Queen, a fictional Web series of the Jayalalitha story, with Ramya Krishnan playing the lead, is a far more interesting watch.

Which is the Best Political Biopic? VOTE!

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