One of the complex challenges in making a biopic is portraying the real-life character accurately and describing the incidents related to that character without exaggerating them or giving them some added colour.
And it is in meeting this challenge that the biopic Anna, based on the life of social activist Anna Hazare, fails. Even though director and actor Shashank Udapurkar has done a commendable job in looking like Hazare and inculcating his mannerisms, the movie is ruined by a rushed and oversimplified plot, misrepresentation of actual events and abrupt scene cuts in a non-linear story accompanied with some horrible background music and songs.
Anna tells the story of how Kisan Baburao Hazare became Anna Hazare, the man the whole country knew after the India Against Corruption movement in 2011. Since it mostly portrays Hazare’s life before the IAC movement, very few parts of the movie actually deal with the IAC movement itself.
The movie mainly focuses on Hazare’s childhood, his time in the army and the work he did for the development of Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Maharashtra which became Hazare’s residence.
Probably the biggest mistake which the movie makes is that it shies away from the controversies surrounding the activist. While it is obviously true that Hazare is a great man who has selflessly worked for the welfare of the people, he has also been involved in some controversies, none of which are shown in the film.
For example, after a ban on alcohol consumption was imposed in Ralegan Siddhi, Anna Hazare thrashed those who violated this ban. “’Drunkards’ who broke the ban on alcohol were brought to the village square, tied to a telegraph pole covered with barbed wire and personally whipped by Mr Hazare with his canvas army belt,” says this report in The Telegraph. It further added that Hazare himself had admitted to resorting to this violence and had told his followers that only he could administer the beatings because he had served the people “like a mother”.
But even though we see Hazare and his followers destroying illegal liquor brewing units in the village, the flogging part is conveniently left out. In another article written by Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph (India), it is stated that Mukul Sharma, a noted environmental journalist who did fieldwork in Ralegan Siddhi, found Hazare’s approach “deeply brahmanical” and said that Hazare compelled Dalit families to adopt a vegetarian diet. Sharma also found that no panchayat elections had been held in the village for two decades on Hazare’s instructions.
None of this, of course, is seen in the film.
Anna tries to portray the activist more like a saint than a man. Because of this, other characters lack depth. Tanishaa Mukerji plays a reporter who should be an example of how not to be a reporter and Govind Namdev plays the typical evil moneylender who knows almost nothing apart from profit. Before they’re allowed to say more than five lines, though, the movie shifts the focus back to Hazare.
But even the events shown in the movie have not been portrayed well. When he was in the army, Anna Hazare was the only survivor after a truck he was travelling in came under heavy aerial fire in Khem Karan sector in Punjab during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. That event had a great effect on him, sort of like the effect getting thrown out of a train at the Pietermaritzburg railway station in South Africa had on Gandhi.
In a biopic on Anna Hazare, you would expect the Khem Karan scene to be one of the most important ones. You would expect to see disturbing violence and some possible gore to connect with the shock the character must have experienced in a horrific situation like that. What you see instead are some cartoon-like special effects followed by some badly written, melodramatic lines being said by Hazare. You end up feeling absolutely nothing during this insipid scene.
In fact, it’s as if the movie shied away from showing dark or disturbing visuals. When showing how Hazare dealt with drought in his village, you only hear about the consequences of drought from a person expressing his or her anguish to Hazare. The movie almost never shows you those actual consequences like starvation or abject poverty and on the rare occasions that it does, the subject is treated with kid gloves.
There is also a scene describing an event during which the police had opened fire on a protesting crowd after the stone-pelting by the crowd got out of control. Instead, the police opens fire in the scene after just one man throws a stone at a policeman. Also, the way the victims die after getting shot in the scene is only slightly better than the way Kamaal R Khan’s character dies in this scene from Deshdrohi.
Because of such powerless scenes which were supposed to depict crucial and impactful events, it is extremely difficult to establish an emotional connect with the characters in the film.
Another extremely annoying aspect of the movie is the irregular pace. While going at a slow to moderate pace in the first half, the plot becomes so rushed in the second half that the film skips several years of Hazare’s life without a proper transition.
Anna tries to portray the activist more like a saint than a man. Because of this, other characters lack depth.
The worst part is that the reason behind this is not that the film makers did not have enough time, but that they devoted a lot of time to completely insignificant events.
This brings us to the songs in the film. In a biopic (which is supposed to stick to reality), you would expect the song to play in the background because no sensible person suddenly breaks into a loud song in a public place in reality. Yet, in the songs in Anna, Hazare, like a Bollywood hero, starts singing sentimental songs with the people around him either dancing or pretending to admire his completely out-of-place singing.
So the question is this: The film makers found time to insert needless songs but not the time to focus on important events regarding social issues in a movie about a social activist? Really?
Moreover, several scenes which basically do nothing but laud Hazare could have been avoided to include much more important issues.
Anna Hazare is a great social activist with his fair share of controversies. His life is definitely very interesting and inspiring. But the film Anna, obsessed with glorifying the man, makes the story of that life look dull.