The burgeoning appetite for substantial content has led to a veritable procession of "biopics" – a portmanteau of "biographical" and "picture" – poised to grace the silver screen in the forthcoming months

The Power of Bollywood Biopics

Bollywood biopics, these cinematic gems wield significant influence on both the cultural landscape and the psyche of the Indian audience. Firstly, they serve as a bridge between history and contemporary society, resurrecting forgotten legends and introducing them to a new generation. By doing so, they not only immortalize the lives of remarkable individuals but also underline the importance of heritage and legacy.

Moreover, Bollywood biopics often transcend their national boundaries, creating a universal appeal that resonates with diverse audiences worldwide. This reach underscores the potency of storytelling in fostering cross-cultural empathy and understanding. Furthermore, these films frequently tackle socio-political issues, provoking vital conversations and fostering social change. They can be catalysts for discourse on issues such as gender equality, caste discrimination, and political corruption.

The burgeoning appetite for substantial content has led to a veritable procession of “biopics” – a portmanteau of “biographical” and “picture” – poised to grace the silver screen in the forthcoming months. These cinematic journeys into the lives of real-world luminaries hold the promise of offering audiences not only a glimpse into the past but also a profound connection to remarkable individuals from history. As the anticipation mounts, it is evident that this amalgamation of fact and fiction will continue to cast its enchanting spell over the hearts and minds of cinema enthusiasts, reaffirming the enduring allure of Bollywood’s unique storytelling prowess.

The Inception

Biopics in Bollywood can be traced back to the early years of Indian cinema. However, it was in the mid-20th century that they truly began to gain prominence and recognition as a distinct genre. In the early years of Indian cinema, silent films like “Harischandra” (1913), directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, often considered the pioneer of Indian cinema, laid the foundation for future biographical narratives. While not biopics in the contemporary sense, these films were characterized by their exploration of moral and ethical dilemmas, setting the stage for the cinematic portrayal of real-life stories.

The post-independence era marked a notable shift towards more structured biographical narratives. Films like “Shaheed” (1948), which depicted the life of Bhagat Singh, a prominent freedom fighter, began to emerge. However, it was “Jhansi Ki Rani” (1953), directed by Sohrab Modi, that marked a significant step in the development of biopics in Bollywood. This film portrayed the life of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, a historical figure synonymous with valour and resilience, and exemplified the potential for historical storytelling in Indian cinema.

The golden era of Indian cinema, spanning the 1960s and 1970s, witnessed a surge in biographical films. “Mughal-e-Azam” (1960), directed by K. Asif, explored the tumultuous love story between Emperor Akbar and Anarkali. However, it was “Mera Saaya” (1966), directed by Raj Khosla, based on the life of Dr. Rukmini Varma, a renowned lawyer, that marked the beginning of a series of successful biopics in Bollywood. These films not only sought to entertain but also to educate and inspire audiences by bringing historical and real-life figures to the forefront.

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a trend of biopics on political leaders. “Gandhi” (1982), directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi, was a watershed moment in Indian cinema. The film received international acclaim and solidified the biopic genre’s importance. This period also saw films like “Sardar” (1993), centred on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero” (2004), further emphasizing the significance of portraying real-life heroes and their contributions.

In the 21st century, Bollywood experienced a resurgence of biopics, catering to the evolving tastes of the audience. Films like “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” (2013), based on the life of sprinter Milkha Singh, and “Mary Kom” (2014), a portrayal of the famous boxer Mary Kom, brought a new dimension to biographical storytelling. These films not only focused on historical accuracy but also delved into the emotional and personal aspects of the protagonists, offering a more intimate glimpse into their lives.

Bollywood’s contemporary biopics have expanded their horizons by exploring diverse themes and figures. From sports personalities like Dhoni (“M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story” – 2016) to mathematician Ramanujan (“The Man Who Knew Infinity” – 2015) and entrepreneur Sanjay Dutt (“Sanju” – 2018), these films have showcased the versatility of the biopic genre in encompassing various aspects of human achievement.

What can go wrong?

Romanticization, a common trope in biopics, can also sway audience perceptions. Real lives are often condensed into heroic tales, with individuals portrayed as larger-than-life figures overcoming all odds. While this approach adds to the drama, it can gloss over complexities and moral ambiguities, leading viewers to perceive the subject through a romanticized lens. Such over-simplification can misguide audiences by offering an incomplete picture of the person’s character or actions.

Over-glorification, another potential pitfall, often leaves audiences with an idealized perception of real-life figures. While it is natural to celebrate the achievements of individuals, biopics that excessively glorify their subjects can inadvertently cultivate unrealistic expectations or perceptions. The flaws and imperfections that are part of every human life might be downplayed or omitted, creating a skewed image.

Sensationalism is yet another facet of biopics that can misguide the audience. To grab attention and create intrigue, filmmakers may emphasize sensational or controversial aspects of a person’s life, potentially overshadowing their more significant contributions or achievements. In the pursuit of heightened drama, the core essence of the subject’s legacy can be lost or misrepresented.

The political undercurrent in some biopics can be a source of concern. When filmmakers align their narratives with political ideologies or interests, they can mislead the audience by presenting a biased or skewed version of events. This can inadvertently influence public opinion and perpetuate misinformation.

Is Biopic a weapon to shape society?

Biopics in Bollywood are, without a doubt, a fascinating blend of entertainment and social influence. In the context of Indian society, they wield the potential to be more than just a cinematic experience; they can serve as a weapon to shape the very fabric of society itself. These films, often based on the lives of iconic figures from various fields, possess a unique capacity to inspire, educate, and challenge societal norms.

Biopics also function as a tool for social commentary. By delving into the complexities of societal issues, they challenge conventional wisdom and spotlight injustices. For instance, films like “Pad Man” (2018) addressed the stigma around menstrual hygiene, while “Manto” (2018) explored the challenges faced by the renowned Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. These films provoke thought, encouraging audiences to reevaluate their perspectives and contribute to the broader discourse on social change.

Another compelling aspect of biopics is their ability to challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity. They often depict individuals from diverse backgrounds who have achieved greatness. These portrayals break down stereotypes and biases, encouraging audiences to question preconceived notions about gender, caste, and class. Biopics thus contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

However, it’s essential to recognize that the impact of biopics is not always uniformly positive. They can also perpetuate misinformation or romanticize certain aspects of a person’s life. Filmmakers must strike a delicate balance between artistic expression and historical accuracy, ensuring that their narratives do justice to the complexities of the individuals they portray.

Their unique ability to resurrect history, honour culture, provoke conventions, and ignite dialogues underscores their status as a potent cultural tool. Bollywood biopics transcend the realms of cinema, reaching deep into the core of the audience and leaving an extraordinary mark on the collective consciousness. They epitomize the enduring truth that narratives possess the potential to mould perspectives, spark change, and become a guiding beacon for humanity’s journey. As long as biopics continue to grace the silver screen, their influence on the shared soul of India and, indeed, the world will remain an enduring testament to the transformative power of cinematic storytelling.