As the Bollywood is growing with more content driven films that break the stereotype, we find out the liaison that plays the catalyst in progression
Once John Milton said, “The childhood shows the man as morning shows the day,” so as the first quarter of the year that shows its maturity as an entertainment industry called Bollywood. With a film like Ki & Ka that celebrates gender equality in a playful manner, Kapoor and Sons, where a group of pretty faces (Alia Bhatt, Siddhart Malhotra and Fawad Khan) talk about not so pretty story of their life which is more closer to the reality; with three films that inspired by real life accounts – Airlift, Neerja, Aligarh. In addition, a refreshing musical indie like Jugni, where the protagonist represents the new woman of India, our film industry is ready to feed its viewers a platter that is beyond formulaic. Moreover, the appreciation of the audience and critics is proving that realistic film is the ‘new guitar’ of Indian cinema. Nevertheless, the question is who plays the real game changer here, is it the story, the experimental attitude of B-town stars or the new corps of script writers who are ready to explore progressive language of Indian cinema?
Real- reel-real: This year we have seen many forgotten tales from the folio of history that has come alive on screen and some inspirational real life incidents that have gained its shelf life beyond the daily newspaper. Airlift was one of such film based on real-life events during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when India evacuated around 170,000 of its citizens stranded in Kuwait. But, does the character Ranjit Katyal, played by Akshay Kumar exists in real life? Though according to Wikipedia, the character was based on Mathunny Mathews, while asked about the same, director Raja Krishna Menon told a news agency in an earlier interview, “No, he (Ranjit Katyal) does not exist. What happened at that point (during the war) was that a group of people came together – there was a gentleman called Mathunny Mathews, there was a gentleman called Harbajan Singh Vedi and they formed an unofficial committee. They knew Indians were not safe. A large percentage of the Indian population did not know what hit them. They were rudderless. So I picked my main people and amalgamated them into one person.”
However, the story of the film Jugni is little twisted. Though it is a fictional story, it is interesting to perceive the uncanny similarity of the protagonist Vaibhavi(played by Sugandha Garg) and the director Shaefali Bhushan. Few years ago, Shefali used to travel the rural India in search of folk musicians to promote and share their interesting stories for her website called Beat Of India; just like in the film Vaibhavi traveled to Punjab in search of folk music. But according to Shefali, “It is not an autobiographical character, though ‘traveling for music’ is a similar factor between me and Vaibhavi. But one of the reason why audience liked her character is that when I have developed the character of Vaibhavi, instead of intending to create a larger than life girl, I tried to keep it real with many shades of emotions that you and I have. It is her journey that makes her an extraordinary girl!”
On another film Neerja, based on the life story of Neerja Bhanot who was a purser for Pan Am, shot and killed while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September 1986; one of the talking points of the film was encounters between the protagonist Neerja and a deadly terrorist Khaleel (played by Jim Sarbh). Since the character of Khaleel was partially created by the writer of the film Saiwyn Quadras; while quizzed about if such semi-fictional character helped to establish the bravery of Neerja, he said, “There was no correlation between creating a character to show Neerja’s bravery as her act was enough to establish that.” Then he explained, “But as an audience when you are watching a film, you want to see different characters that make the story colourful. You see, those four terrorists had different shades that made the narration interesting. As a writer, my job was to play with different characters while writing the story without losing the essence of the real account that we were making the film on. Khaleel was one of those catalysts who led all victims to go through such horrific experience.”
But isn’t it challenging to take such creative liberty to fuse fiction with reality? Or is it a way to celebrate Mark Twins words – The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable?
Imagination, the la la land of writers: It is fascinating to observe that all these films that dealt with real life characters, are not alive anymore, whether it is Neerja Bhanot or Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras of Aligarh. Whatever the audience have seen on-screen is the result of these screenplay writers’ imagination based on facts. So what is the challenge that they faced while developing an iconic character? “It was challenging for various parts and there we, as writers take the creative liberty to fictionalize some part of the story to make the audience connect to the film. But an insightful research work that comprise of meeting different people who know Prof Siras, definitely helped us to develop a character with nuances,” said Ishani Banerjee, who penned the story of Aligarh along with Apurva Asrani.
However, such process only gives a certain perspective of the character, as Saiwyn said, “Talking to Neerja’s family gave us the idea of her bonding with those people, who loved her. Nevertheless, that was just one side of the coin. As a writer, I have to treat the character in a certain manner for its portrayal on screen. You see, Neerja was a girl next door in the beginning of the film, it was the series of incidents, situations and her reaction to that made her a ‘bahadur bachha’. So, it is the story and the creativity of a writer’s mind that gives wholeness to any character.”
And sometimes these creative minds also use simple logic from real life while writing. Remember the scene from Aligarh, where professor Siras, in conversation with news reporter Deepu Sebastian (played by Raj Kumar Rao) over a glass of whiskey, tries to open up and share his story? The conversation goes like this:Prof Siras: Do you think I am drunk?/Deepu Sebastian: No sir…/Prof Siras: Then I need one more peg…
Asking about their thought behind writing such scenes without meeting the real Prof Siras, Ishani explained, “What if you are a soft spoken introvert person, with a poetic mind, going through a huge dilemma and pain where you have become a talking point because of nothing but your sexual orientation. The respect that you have earned in last 30 years has gone for a toss due to something where no one has the right to intervene! So, while writing such scene we writers use our practical experience or human reaction that w have observed in daily life, where you sit quite in the room, drink one or two pegs of whiskey to ease your pain and open up before someone to express your sorrow, isn’t it?”
Stardom comes second: Considering the fact that cinema is a visual medium, it has been observed that when it comes to any biographical film, the visual resemblance is very important, as the on screen image remain strongest in audience’s mind. Therefore, whether it is Ben Kingsley, Benjamin Walker, Sonam Kapoor or Manoj Vajpeei – they will live in our mind forever as Mahatma Gandhi, Abrahum Lincon, Neerja Bhanot and Prof Siras respectively. But the question is, is it easier to cast an actor rather than a star who already has a glamorous image in their audience’s mind? According to Shefali, ” it is true that many big stars like Amitabh Bachhan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan posses a larger than life personality and people come to see them on screen but it depends on the director’s vision how he wants to portray the character. Of course casting the right actor does matter but all great actors have the ability to underplay their glamorous image when required.”While answering the question, Saiwyn said, “Casting Sonam Kapoor as Neerja Bhanot was initially my idea. And of course everyone questioned on my choice then as she has an image of fashion diva. Nevertheless, after seeing her on screen, people have understood that she was the right choice. One cannot ignore the uncanny resemblance between Sonam and Neerja Bhanot. It’s like a journey from ‘why Sonam’ to ‘wow Sonam’! (Laugh).”
Seconding his opinion Ishani said, “You see, the mark of a great actor is his /her acting and not the star power. When it comes to Manoj Bajpai, we have seen him as Bhiku Mahatre, Inspector Samar Pratap Singh in Shool, Sardar Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1, where we have seen him playing character who is angry, out spoken, delivering powerful dialogues etc. Therefore, when he played Professor Siras, it was a complete shift from those characters to a soft-spoken passionate human being, who is a poet by heart and a loner in life. And there he established how brilliant actor he is…”
And Saiwyn reminded us many such instances, where actors redefined their images entirely, “Did you ever get a glance of the superstar Big-B in that old man Bhashkor Banerjee or the super-model, glamorous Deepika Padukone in Piku? Think about the contrasting characters that Darshan Kumar played in two different films, a loving husband in Mary Kom and brutal brother in NH10 who killed his own sister!
Nevertheless, these writers’ way of thinking met at one point that Shefali put in words, “As a writer I believe that a good script is the foundation of any film. If the script is not well written, the star power or actors’ performance cannot cover that up, because their performance is also depending on the story graph that is lying in the script.”
As movie connoisseur we are aware of the fact that film is a directors medium, keeping above thoughts in mind, we believe that a good movie is nothing but a marriage between good script and great performance that follows an artistic journey from a director’s vision. So, while the filmistan is ready with a wide array of films with experimental subjects and biopics like Azhar, M S Dhoni: The untold story, Sarabjit and Dangal; let’s gear up to experience some cinematic journey where reel meets the real!