Can a Biopic Do Justice to the Real Bal Thackeray? 

It can make for an interesting story or end up being a boring ode to him. Which way will it go?

Updated
Indian Cinema
2 min read
The late Bal Thackeray. 
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So the late Shiv Sena founder and leader Bal Thackeray will now get his own biopic. The story of Thackeray’s rise from a cartoonist, who charged Rs 10 for a cartoon, to being elected as the remote control Chief Minister of Maharashtra will indeed make for interesting viewing. Thackeray’s tumultuous life is ridden with drama, intrigue, public veneration, family squabbles and the man himself swings from being a figure who inspired fanatic hero-worship to extreme hate at the same time.

A file photo of Bal Thackeray addressing a rally in 2002.
A file photo of Bal Thackeray addressing a rally in 2002.
(Photo: Reuters)

However, considering that the biopic is being directed by MNS leader, Abhijit Panse, will it be more of an audio-visual eulogy, than an evenhanded narrative on the life of an influential and controversial politico-socio-cultural icon?

But then we have seldom made non-partisan, true to life biopics. And one cannot blame Bollywood for it either. Our icons, whether they are from the arena of politics, religion, culture or sports are sacrosanct. Any attempt to portray them as mere mortals who are prone to jealousy, hate, insecurity, moral corruption or megalomania will not go unchallenged. Sexuality too is another area which we tend to turn a blind eye to when it concerns our venerated leaders.

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in <i>Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.</i>
Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

If you look at Justin Chadwick’s biopic on Mandela, it walks the tightrope in its screenplay seeking answers for Mandela resorting to violence and radicalism in his fight against apartheid. Also, while Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar biopic was criticized at being reverential, it did not gloss over his alleged homosexuality. Back home, we are not supposed to question or criticize a luminary, let alone depict anything controversial about him/her.

Any film on the Hindu Hriday Samrat will be engaging only if it takes a non-partisan view and includes asides like Thackeray’s open praise for Hitler, his call for ethnocentric violence against South Indians, Gujaratis and Marwaris (in the 1970s) and migrants from UP and Bihar (in 2008). The biopic also has to answer uncomfortable questions about the Shiv Sena’s role in the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 and the party’s indictment in the Srikrishna Commission report.

Shiv Sena supporters carry a portrait of Bal Thackeray before his funeral procession in Mumbai in November 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
Shiv Sena supporters carry a portrait of Bal Thackeray before his funeral procession in Mumbai in November 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

It will be a pure waste of both a cinematic exercise and the legacy of a leader, who was revered and disliked in equal measure, if the intriguing, magnetic and authoritative personality of Bal Thackeray is diluted into a unidimensional paean.

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 17 August 2015.)

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