The stage is set. A large crowd is gathered outside. Men in white kurtas and saffron phetas stand in wait with their dhol tashe. Women dressed in navari saris hold puja thalis in their hands. The moment Uddhav Thackeray arrives at Wadala’s IMAX theatre, the grand welcome begins, complete with fireworks. The scene, usually typical of a political rally, is the setting for the launch of a film’s trailer. But then, this is no common film. Unveiled on Wednesday, Thackeray is the biopic of late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
The film, being produced by Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna’s editor and MP Sanjay Raut and director Abhijit Panse, has actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the titular role. It will be released in both Hindi and Marathi on January 25.
The event, which had the supremo’s son and political heir Uddhav in attendance, saw Siddiqui being sidelined to the level of supporting cast during the launch of the Hindi trailer and reduced to a junior artiste in the unveiling of the Marathi version. In the limelight, instead, were Uddhav and Raut as they sloganeered and praised the late leader.
The Marathi trailer, which has been cut differently from the Hindi version, is a tad more feisty and assigns Thackeray’s character several controversial dialogues. Both the trailers, however, stress on the riots in Mumbai that followed the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and Thackeray’s support for the construction of Ram Mandir, which follows close on the heels of Uddhav’s recent trip to Ayodhya.
However, much like its protagonist, the film’s promo found itself amid controversy even before it was launched. On Wednesday morning, several news websites reported that the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) had ordered a couple of cuts to the film’s trailer. One of the cuts reportedly ordered by the CBFC was a reference to the Babri Masjid issue. When asked to comment on that, Uddhav retorted, “If the system is so quick to order censor, why doesn’t it show this speed in taking a decision about the Ayodhya issue as well?” The Indian Express, however, has learnt that these cuts — only in the Marathi promo for the film — are two derogatory slogans that the Shiv Sena leader would commonly use in his speeches against the South Indian migrants in the ’60s and ’70s. Raut, who was fielding most of the questions, dismissed the CBFC’s move and promised that the film will show Bal Thackeray, “the hero and saviour of Marathi manoos”, “as he was”. “His character will not be compromised,” he asserted.