Cinema is often considered as a means to unwind from real life but this year saw filmmakers imitate stories of actual people and their lives in movies like Dangal, Neerja, MS Dhoni and Aligarh. The success of such projects have proved that a great movie doesn’t always need action scenes, over-the-top comedy and when placed in the hands of the right director and actors, the truth can be far more compelling than fiction.
Aamir Khan teamed up with director Nitesh Tiwari for Dangal to bring on the big screen the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained his daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari to become world class, medal-winning wrestlers. For the film, Aamir went the whole length to get his character right – underwent a massive physical transformation, took wrestling training and learnt Haryanvi.
Sonam Kapoor-played the protagonist in Ram Madhvani- directed biography film “Neerja”, which is based on the life of flight attendant Neerja Bhanot, who died saving the lives of over 300 passengers on a hijacked Pan Am plane.
Despite the film also starring acting veteran Shabana Azmi, it was Sonam’s dignified, strong and real performance as Neerja which left the viewers impressed and the film turned out to be a career-defining film for her. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput stepped into the shoes of India’s most successful captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story.
The biopic did not delve much into controversies of Dhoni’s professional life and was more about his emotional journey from a budding cricketer to a ticket collector to finally getting the top job in Indian cricket. But it was a clear winner as the film enjoyed a great run at the box office.
Hansal Mehta brought to the big screens a subtle, sensitive take on a controversial real-life court case involving the victimization of a gay college professor, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in his biographical drama Aligarh. And to top it off, Manoj Bajpayee gave a riveting and nuanced performance as the wronged professor in the powerful film, which saw Rajkummar Rao in a supporting role.
Akshay Kumar brought back the sensational murder case of Naval Officer K M Nanavati on the big screen with his Rustom. The 1950s set film draws heavily from the incident of Nanavati murdering businessman Prem Ahuja, who was his wife’s love. The Tinu Suresh Desai film performed well at the box office.
Azhar, another cricket-based biopic to release this year, was about Mohammad Azharuddin, who is arguably India’s most controversial cricket captain. Emraan Hashmi took on the task of playing the lead role and did a good job in picking up Azhar’s mannerisms and body language. The Tony D’Souza-directed film, however, tried too hard to present Azhar as a misunderstood hero and did not turn out to be a success.
Sarbjit was another Bollywood biographical film that released this year. The Omung Kumar-directed movie had Randeep Hooda as Sarabjit Singh, an Indian man who was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1991 and who consequently spent 22 years in prison for alleged terrorism and spying. He later died in a Pakistani jail.
Aishwarya Rai Bachcha portrayed the role of Sarabjit’s sister Dalbir Kaur, who fights to pursue the release of her brother from a Pakistani jail. Ram Gopal Varma’s Veerappan was based on the real-life Indian bandit Veerappan and the events leading to Operation Cocoon, a mission to capture and kill him. The film was also made in Kannada and dubbed in Telugu and Tamil.
Veerappan starred Sandeep Bharadwaj, Sachiin J Joshi, Usha Jadhav, and Lisa Ray. It received mixed reviews but was appreciated for its production design and performances of Bharadwaj, and Jadav.
Anna based on the life of Indian social activist Anna Hazare also hit theatres this year but the movie starring, Shashank Udapurkar, Tanishaa Mukerji, Govind Namdev, Sharat Saxena, Kishor Kadam, Daya Shankar Pandey, sank at the box office without a trace.
There were also films which took inspiration from real problems plaguing the country today. In Udta Punjab, filmmaker Abhishek Chaubey tackled the drug menace prevalent in the state of Punjab and how the youth there have succumbed to it resulting in a socio-economic decline.
Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh, the four leads in the film, pack a punch and deliver top notch performances in the crime-drama. Bengali director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury made his sensational Hindi film debut with courtroom drama Pink. The film was an honest and serious attempt to grapple with the women safety issue in the country.
Tapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang form the electric ensemble in the film, who voiced what most girls in the country face but are scared to share. Megastar Amitabh Bachchan owned the part of their lawyer aiding the film in giving a progressive, provocative and powerful statement.
Manoj Bajpayee’s thriller Traffic was inspired by a real-life incident from Chennai in which doctors and traffic cops work together to give a new lease of life to a girl. The Rajesh Pillai-directed film, is a remake of the 2011 Malayalam film of same name, and also starred Jimmy Shergill, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Parambrata Chatterjee.
Soha Ali Khan and Vir Das starred in 31st October, which was an account of that one day when the national capital burnt with its own rage after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh.
The film, however, was not a box office success.