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With Mahendra Singh Dhoni allegedly asking Rs.40 crore for his biopic, and the makers of the biopic Mary Kom being criticised for casting Priyanka Chopra to reprise the role of the ace boxer, Screen investigates the future of this genre that is becoming very popular with film-makers

Mumbai |
Updated: September 26, 2014 1:00:56 am
Mahendra Singh Dhoni Mahendra Singh Dhoni

By Priyanka Bhadani

It was not very long back that we complained about not many biopics being made in India. While the western counterparts excelled in showing the lives of famous personalities through their films, we hardly had any films documenting Indian celebrities. Recently, however, the scenario has changed with official biopics being made on some of the most popular stars like sprinters Paan Singh Tomar and Milkha Singh, boxer Mary Kom and more being planned on people like singer Kishore Kumar, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, former cricketer Mohammed Azahruddin among others.
The genre has not only been appreciated by the public at large, but biopics have also made good money. But still, few surprising complications occur. If the recent reports are to be believed, the Indian cricket captain, M.S. Dhoni, has allegedly asked for Rs.40 crore.
While in the past, other issues, like family members of a famous personality having issues with the portrayal of their kin in a certain way (The Dirty Picture), has gripped the film-makers, the current case gives the genre a totally new spin with a big amount coming into the picture.
On social networking sites, actor Priyanka Chopra had been criticised for making money through the biopic on Kom while the boxer, who has risen from poverty and still works hard to make ends meet, has hardly benefited from it. But Kom chose to keep silent about the entire issue. However, looking at the larger picture, does it justify a famous personality to quote an amount for his/her life?
“Why not?” remarks the first woman IPS officer of India, Kiran Bedi, on whose life a biopic is being contemplated. While Bedi says that she hasn’t been approached with any such offer till now, she wouldn’t mind if her life inspires her countrymen. And she would not mind quoting a big sum to sell off the rights to her life’s story. “All my earnings from the royalty that I get for my books go to the two NGOs that I support. Whatever amount I earn from the film, would also go into that account and thus the more I get, the better it is,” rationalises Bedi.
However, not many share the same opinion. Onler Kom, husband of boxer Mary Kom, says that he is happy that people have appreciated the film on their lives. “Money is not a big deal for us,” says Onler, who even rubbishes the controversy around Priyanka earning moolah through their lives. “Priyanka would have earned and has earned through all her movies. Our aim to agree to do the movie was to inspire the country, especially girls. We wanted to send a message, which we have successfully done, nothing else matters to us,” he remarks.
The people behind these biopics believe that it’s the coordination with the person or his family that works. There are possibilities that getting the rights for a biopic can get complicated, believes Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures Limited that has been behind two successful biopics— Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mary Kom.
Tanuj Garg, CEO Balaji Motion Pictures, agrees and says that they have hardly faced any complications. The production house is currently working on a biopic on former cricketer Azharuddin has not faced any roadblocks till now.
Without divulging the figure, Garg agrees that an amount has been been locked with the cricketer. He says that at the end of it all, it is the willingness of the person on whose life the biopic is being made that decides the future of the project. “It can differ from case to case,” he remarks as he says that every person can have different set of rules and terms to work which should be followed.
According to Andhare, if the rights have been correctly transacted, hardly any complications would occur. The studio sailed smoothly during both the biopics as the people associated to the person being documented were on board during the time the project was conceptualised. In fact, while Milkha Singh was seen at many of the promotional events for the film, Mary and her husband Onler Kom, have been quite vocal about their fondness for the film and the portrayal of their lives.
However, the value of a project completely depends on the person who owns the rights, says Andhare when asked if an amount of Rs.40 crore seems justifiable. “Having said that, I would also like to add that a biopic re-ignites or adds value to the person. Like Milkha Singh became a household name after the movie released. Now, even the younger generation knows him and his achievements,” he says and adds that the movie on Kom has made her a household name and thus the stars who quote high figures should also think about the prospects the movie would bring with it.
Interestingly, while Singh’s `1 remuneration was widely publicised, a very close source associated with Mary Kom, says that the boxer was given Rs.25 lakhs for the rights to make a movie on her life. “This was a token of love from the director Omung Kumar,” says the source.
From the financial point of view, people in the industry, doubt the feasibility of a film if a huge amount like Rs.40 crore is paid to the person on whose life the film is being made. Akshaye Rathi, distributor and exhibitor, says it is a huge amount to shell out even before the production starts. “If something like this happens, it would be better to make an ‘inspired by’ film than an official biopic,” says Rathi, who thinks that while it is still to be seen if something like this happens, if at all it happens, film-makers would opt for unofficial biopics.
Surprisingly, since India doesn’t even have proper copyright laws in place, unofficial biopics would make more sense. “It is always better to seek permission, but any person can avail the information that is already in public domain,” says Hetal Thakore, Partner, Thakore Jariwala & Associates Advocates & Solicitors, who specialises in copyright and IPR cases. “A person can only raise an objection through the ‘right to privacy act’ and thus unofficial biopics are more easy to execute unless one doesn’t want to show some hidden aspects of a person’s life,” he remarks.
Producer Ashi Dua, whose next is a film “inspired” by the life of two writers— Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi, was recently slapped with a legal notice by the late Amrita Pritam’s grandson, Aman Kwatra, who felt that his grandmother would not have liked her personal life being filmed. While, her case was different, Dua agrees with Thakore as she says that any material that is in the public domain can be used artistically as there are no laws to prevent it. “In the West, it is easier to make films inspired by known people without being bothered by additional logistics that can come into the picture,” she says as she talks about The Social Network that is inspired by the life of Mark Zuckerberg, and the makers neither took his permission nor paid him.
Rathi feels that if tough logistics come into the picture, biopics on subjects that are difficult to deal with, will be completely dropped. “As it is, we have too many personalities who can inspire the entire nation. Film-makers would always opt for the lives of people that are easy to access over those who would make it difficult to execute the film.”
So, even as the industry moves forward full-throttle to make biopics, several new rules and regulations governing them are bound to come into force, making it a tricky field to explore.


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