Padman and the predicament with biopics: Is the priority to be authentic to subject matter or fictionalise drama?

Abhishek Srivastava

Feb 11, 2018 09:14:46 IST

The story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, more commonly known as Padman, has hit theatres this week. While Bollywood stars — in solidarity with the theme of the film and with Akshay Kumar leading the way — have been inundating their social media platform with images of them holding sanitary napkins, one really wonders how true the plot of the film will be to the real Arunachalam.

The biopics that Bollywood has culled out in the past few years gives us reasons to believe that the promises made by makers of Pad Man during the promotional phase of film are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

 Padman and the predicament with biopics: Is the priority to be authentic to subject matter or fictionalise drama?

Akshay Kumar as the reel Padman and Arunachalam Muruganathanam as the real Padman

In recent times, we witnessed a sincere Arjun Rampal sinking his teeth in the portrayal of Arun Gawli, but the overall plot of Daddy was a let down by the writers, after the protagonist was venerated in the film. Azhar, a shoddy attempt by Tony D’Souza to commemorate cricketer Azharuddin, was way off the mark. The film actually glorified Azhar and absolved him of all sins of match fixing. Neerja cannot be dubbed as a biopic in true sense as it dealt only with a particular event and in a very tricky fashion Neeraj Pandey avoided most of the curious questions which viewers were looking for in MS Dhoni. The less one says about Apoorva Lakhia’s biopic on Haseena Parkar, the better. Barring Dangal and Mary Kom none of the biopics could match with the life of the protagonist they dealt with.

To sum up, the tricks of making a biopic is still to be cracked by Bollywood filmmakers.

Most of the filmmakers falter when it comes to weaving nuances that are involved in the making of a biopic. Padman is next in queue and slated to pass the same test this weekend. With Arunachalam himself being available for the various promotional activities of the film, it’s a foregone conclusion that the film has blessings of the social entrepreneur who revolutionised the world of women health care with his low cost sanitary napkins.

But let’s not forget even Azhar had blessings of Cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin and so did Daddy and Haseena Parkar. Barring a few like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Paan Singh Tomar, Bandit Queen and The Dirty Picture, majority have failed and faltered in their execution.

So why is it that Bollywood always trails behind in a genre that has been cracked beautifully and successfully by Hollywood? Biopics, in the first place, can be a very tricky affair and are not considered a safe bet by producers. True to the oft witnessed herd mentality among Bollywood filmmakers, it was only after the success of Paan Singh Tomar and The Dirty Picture that Bollywood woke up to the true money spinner potential of biopics. Prior to both these films, biopics were always considered a losing proposition and saw light of theatres in a very erratic fashion.

One major factor that differentiates the biopics of Hollywood and Bollywood is the art of picking the subject matter itself.

Most of the lives that are picked by Hollywood are from the common strata and thus pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman becomes the protagonist for Roman Polanski for his Oscar winner The Pianist or Martin Scorsese resorted to the life of maverick stockbroker Jordan Belfort for his The Wolf of Wall Street. Erin Brockovich was just an environmental activist before the film catapulted her to fame. In strictest sense none of them were celebrities and people had no clue about their existence until the films appeared.

In Bollywood it’s always been the other way. Filmmakers have picked only those subjects which either have been part of history or have received constant media coverage. For the Hindi film industry, personalities like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Milkha Singh, Phoolan Devi, Sarabjit Singh, Azharuddin and Mary Kom perfectly fit the bill on their defined parameters. Films like Manjhi - The Mountain Man and Manjunath are few and far between which actually talked about common men and viewers had no inkling about their plots. Truth be told, Bandit Queen and Paan Singh Tomar, ironically both centring around reformed dacoits, are the closest that Bollywood has tasted in terms of a refined biopic: rest all have been marred with a star hangover.

Dangal, MS Dhoni, Mary Kom rested on the star power of Aamir Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput and Priyanka Chopra to an extent.

Not much is known about the personal life of Arunachalam and it would be interesting to see how director Balki has interpreted and given a vision to his life. It's yet to be seen what treatment Balki gives to the personal part of his life. But a niggling thing that is worrisome is that the setting of the film too has been changed to a North Indian village, which looks ridiculous to say the least.

One thing that largely worked in favour of Dangal, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Paan Singh Tomar was the milieu to which the protagonist belonged. Even the South impact in The Dirty Picture was apparent but in Padman the shuddh Hindi dialogues and the banners that are visible in the trailer look like an eyesore and take away the authenticity of the film.

Actors might have shown their solidarity with the film but in the end it’s the acceptance of the mass that matters.

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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2018 09:14:46 IST