Do You Prefer Jhansi Ki Rani Or Maharashtra Ka Raja This Week?

Would it be  Kangana Ranaut’s  Manikarnika   or  the Balasaheb Thackeray  bio-pic this week?

Biopics are a   dicey proposition  in India. They never tell  the truth. They are  made with the express purpose  of  glorifying  the  subject. Last  year the Sanjay Dutt “bio-pic”(the  inverted commas are deliberate)  was  an embarrassment  portraying as it did  the TADA  convict as some  kind of a  benign affable Don Juan.Womanizing and  shooting(we aren’t talking about films) never looked  more  recreational.

Can it get any worse this year? We will soon know. This Friday  there is  the  the Shiv Sena chief the larger-than-life Bal  Thackeray and the eternally valorized  Rani Laxmibai hitting the  screen simultaneously.I wonder  how the  two would have responded to one another if they had  ever met. The  first  is funded by  Mr Thackeray’s party. The second  is funded  by  a besotted  mesmerized spellbound producer who has   gone along with the  vision  of one woman who  was determined  to have her way in bringing Rani Laxmikbai  to the screen.

Both are almost certainly exercises  in glorifying the subject. While  Thackeray has been made to  glorify  not  the  actor playing  Thackeray, Manirkarnika is all about  its leading lady. The Jhansi Ki Rani is  incidental.

Sources from within the rather-unnerved  Manikarnika  team  tell me Kangana  hopes  to get the  kind of everlasting fame withManikarnika  that Nargis  got with Mother India, the same Nargis whose son was extolled and  anointed by Raj Kumar Hiraniin  the alleged bio-pic Sanju last year. Hirani, of course, has been shamed very recent for  alleged sexual harassment.  But I think what he  did in  Sanju was far  more shameful.

We can’t have flawless legends on screen  no matter how iconic they are. Everyone has flaws. Even Jesus Christ. In SarkarRam  Gopal Varma had portrayed  Bal Thackeray as  a human messiah, warts  and all.  Biopics in  our country  make the fatal error  of being  in awe  of  its subject matter. The recent The Accidental Prime Minister  turned  the former prime ministerManmohan Singh’s weaknesses  into some kind of  a negative virtue.Anupam  Kher brought to the  performance a  tremulous compassion and an  endearing vulnerability. But the film  didn’t tell us anything  about  Dr Singh that  we  wanted to know. Not that there  is much I wanted to  know about him in  the  first place.

 There is a  LOT I want to know  about the magnetic Mr Thackeray. What made  him such a  powerful orator?  How did those priceless  retorts and one-liners  come to him  so effortlessly? How did he command the  extra-constitutional rights  of  a proxy leader? What were  his fears and nightmares when he was  alone  away from his devotees?

I think Nawazuddin is an actor who has the  ability to  delve  into his characters’  darkest recesses.He has shown us the  innermost anxieties  of  Raman Raghav and Manto. In Thackeray he  would be most  decidedly able to explore the  mythic man’s inerworld provided he has been allowed  to.

I don’t think the makers  of Thackeray are not  interested in  letting the world know the real  Thackeray.The myth behind the man and  not the reverse  is the goal here. Propagandist cinema  never had  it better in  our cinema. Manikarnika  is about a propaganda  of  another kind. It will  reveal to the world one self-obsessed actress’ narcissistic  impulses  as projected in  the portrayal  of  a woman who  was a  warrior first, a woman  thereafter.

I am  hoping and praying that  the two bio-pics this week would offer us a chance  to get closer  to the enigmatic  political figures who  in different eras, commanded an inestimable  following.

 But I know I am hoping against hope. Bio-pics  as  a genre suffer from seriously exaggerated  heroism and bravado in  our cinema. If you want  to see the real man, wait for  a foreigner  to make  a film on Thackeray  or Rani Laxmibai. No Indian filmmaker has  done to Mahatma Gandhi what Richard Attenborough and Ben Kinsley did.

Humanizing a legend  is also  a form  of immorality. We  will never know that.We  are too blinded by idol  worship to consider  the flaws.

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