All posts filed under: Biopic

MUKKABAAZ / THE BRAWLER (Dir. Anurag Kashyap, 2017, India) – Fist of Fury [spoilers ahead]

Mukkabaaz ends with very little of the catharsis you would expect from a boxing biopic. But Kashyap’s latest venture uses the sports film trappings as a way of navigating the politics of caste against the backdrop of an unconventional Hindi romance. This one zips along, partaking a breathless, infectious energy and enjoys circumventing audience expectations so to let those authorial Kashyap flourishes gather a hedonistic momentum. While mainstream Hindi cinema continues to dodge the question of caste, having rendered caste invisible in the sentimental NRI neoliberal narratives, Parallel Cinema attempted to make the question of caste a central edict of the communicative political cinema of Benegal. Some time or another many of the great Indian filmmakers have all dealt with caste. Even Ray realised the urgency of this task with Sadgati, his grimmest film. And many of the best films about caste have come from the South; see Chomana Dudi. While alternative, independent cinema has thrived, caste led narratives have been intermittent. Yet the critical success of films like Sairat, Chauranga and Masaan point to …

GANDHI (Dir. Richard Attenborough, 1982, India/UK) – ‘Hey Ram!’

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is one of my favourite films. It is a sprawling biopic in which the film’s grasp of history and politics is problematic to say the least. But Lean gives us some of the most poetic images committed to celluloid; a rousing spectacle that compensates for what is a dubious account of T.E. Lawrence’s exotic exploits. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) was long in gestation, coming to fruition in the early 1980s, an Indo-British co-production which involved the NFDC at the behest of PM Indira Gandhi. Gandhi was an unusual project since the remit the NFDC had cultivated over the years was exclusively indigenous but this meant for the first time the NFDC worked in tandem with an external international body, GoldCrest Films, a British production company with ties to Channel Four. The film is populated by a plethora of Parallel Cinema faces while Govind Nihalani directed the second unit. It is certainly true that Gandhi would probably never have been made without the endorsement of the Indian government but one can …

MANJHI – THE MOUNTAIN MAN (Dir. Ketan Mehta, 2015, India)

Ketan Mehta is questionably one of the few remaining Parallel Cinema filmmakers still actively making films. One could probably include Shyam Benegal in this tryst. Many of the Parallel Cinema films declared an affinity for ‘Subaltern Voices’ (see Sangeeta Datta’s monograph on Shyam Benegal), which in turn became a recurring unofficial hallmark of institutional NFDC policy, and Mehta’s latest film ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’ spiritedly recalls the Parallel Cinema movement. Manjhi is a co-production between Viacom and NFDC, a collaboration between private and public funding, resulting in a film that is an uneven mix of politics, melodrama and history. One of the most confusing aspects of the film is the way Mehta structures the narrative, shifting back and forth without any real purpose other than to overstate the decorative idea of one man’s journey. Parallel Cinema intervened in the historical invisibilities of India, functioning as an instrument to decentre monolithic narratives that often marginalised subaltern groups especially the lower castes. Mehta was a central filmmaker in this project and his early work in this …

BOSE: THE FORGOTTEN HERO (Dir. Shyam Benegal, 2005, India) – ‘Chalo Delhi!…’

Revolutionary, leader, politician, humanist, socialist, Marxist, communist; Subhas Chandra Bose was a remarkable figure in the struggle for India’s independence. Director Shyam Benegal’s exceptionally researched historical biopic has an undeniably epic sweep complemented by a towering central performance from the wonderfully talented Marathi actor Sachin Khedekar – it is a faultless and charismatic turn by Khedekar exuding a defiance constantly expressed through his impassioned voice. Had Benegal not been at the helms of this project it is more than likely casting would have been a point of conflict for any other director up against the cynical economics of the box office. In a way, casting is what ultimately compromises the sincerity of recent historical films including Jodha-Akbar and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey – both had the potential to be great films but the emotional and cinematic baggage brought by mainstream stars (who are weak actors) jeopardises audience engagement. If you are going to make a historical film that should be both didactic and entertaining then cast it properly even if this means turning to …