Bollywood is increasingly taking interest in making films based on actual events and real-life heroes. The audience enjoys watching reality on screen more than ever before. While we love watching films based on true stories, accuracy of facts and incidents are sometimes sidelined. What needs to be understood is that a film-maker is primarily an artist and not a historian and therefore his artistic expression should not be dictated by anything else, but the crux of the story he or she is trying to tell.
When a film-maker chooses a subject, his primary challenge is to narrate it as he understands it and how it will be captured on camera. He needs to treat it in such a way that the story engrosses the audience and the film is convincing yet interesting. Another aspect to consider is the investment and the livelihood of the people involved in the project. Besides the distributor, producer and investor, everyone involved is at stake. While documentary making needs to be completely realistic and factually correct, a feature film can fictionalise certain elements to add to the entertainment quotient of the film. It is not necessary that a film is a repetition of historical facts but the director needs to ensure that they are all correct
In Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the director has brought in interesting elements like romance to the film to keep the audience engaged till the end. Milkha Singh’s story can be narrated in five minutes but to hold the audience’s attention for three hours, the characterisation had to be significantly worked upon. Even historians recreate facts. As long as facts are not misconstrued, these kind of liberties do not affect the film as a whole. How many people would have actually gone to see Milkha’s story? And if they did, they went to see an entertaining story told on screen that would be worth their while. When a realistic film is made, unless there is a larger-than-life element, people may not be interested in it. Everyone wants an interesting feature which has conflict and a resolution to it.
When you’re dealing with a real-life character like Milkha Singh, research is important. What we lack in India is development and research. Most film-makers try to get a known face and treat the film as a money-making venture. The formula many stick to is a package of good songs, item number and a bankable star. This is not how a story is told. Everyone in the crew needs to be on the same page. The director needs to check if the cameraman understands his way of storytelling. The first thing that goes wrong is cinematography. Next comes sound. 90 per cent of films do not get a sound designer on board initially. A sound designer is very important in terms of narrating a story.
Having said that, how the director has treated the facts in a film is more important that the fact itself. For example, in my film, I Am Kalam, I narrated a tale of a child I met on a train. But for the story of an interesting child to reach the masses, I had to create drama and conflicts around his situation. I tried to do strike a balance with the facts and the entertainment value.
As told to Kaushani Banerjee