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Cinema’s Real Inspiration

Although biopics offer ready material for a film,several challenges make it a tough genre to crack

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: July 15, 2013 5:33:24 am

When Anurag Basu started work on a film based on Kishore Kumar’s life,it took him a while to gain the trust of the people whom he wanted to interview. Although much is known about the actor-singer’s life,Basu was looking for the little details and inputs that would give him an insight into Kumar’s personality and lend fresh perspective on the man known to be an eccentric genius. “Most people began with sharing the obvious information. It wasn’t before multiple conversations that they truly opened up to share their understanding of Kishore Kumar,” says Basu.

The challenges in making a biopic or a film based on a real person are many. Even as Bollywood warms up to the genre,with several such films — based on the lives of people such as Guru Dutt,Kishore Kumar,MS Subbulakshmi and Dhyan Chand — in the making,directors insist it is one of the most enriching forms of filmmaking. “It comes with the perk of being an inherently inspiring story,but unlike pure fiction,one can take only so much liberty in recreating a real life story,especially if the person is still living,” says director Tigmanshu Dhulia. His movie Paan Singh Tomar,based on the athlete-turned-dacoit of the same name,won several national awards.

Biopics,the world over,tend to be based on the lives of famous personalities — mainly because such projects enjoy an inherent audience interest. However,much like Dhulia’s lesser-known hero,Ananth Mahadevan has chosen to bring under spotlight a man whose inspirational story isn’t part of legends. “Gour Hari Das was a freedom fighter who closely worked with Morarji Desai. Yet,after Independence,the government denied him a freedom fighter certificate. It took him a 32-year-long battle against the system to get his due,” explains Mahadevan.

Another common challenge that directors face when making a biopic is the misconception about the nature of the genre. While they are perceived as the chronicle of the subject,such films are usually the writer and the director’s interpretation. That,says Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra whose Bhaag Milkha Bhaag based on Milkha Singh released last week,is what sets it apart from a documentary.

“Take the film Gandhi,for instance. It has a scene where the Mahatma gets off a train to drink water and spots a woman with a child who barely has a piece of cloth covering her. While he is saddened by her plight,the woman thinks his gaze is inappropriate. After having water,Mahatma leaves the cloth covering his body by the tap,which the wind carries to the woman. Now,the incident may not necessarily be real,but the scene communicates Gandhi’s character to the audience,” says Mehra,who believes inspired storytelling pitches a subject better.

But do filmmakers run their script by their subjects or the living family before embarking on the shoot? Bhavna Talwar,who is currently working on a film based on Guru Dutt’s life,says not necessarily so.

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