When reality rules

When reality rules

Salaam Bollywood: When Reality Rules. For a long time now there has been a trend in Hindi film industry to make films inspired by real people. The success of these films proves that reality rules over fantasy

For a long time now there has been a trend in Hindi film industry to make films inspired by real people. The success of these films proves that reality rules over fantasy

Mani Ratnam made a film on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani ‘Guru’, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra made ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, on the life of Milkha Singh, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is producing a film on champion Mary Kom with Priyanka Chopra. Simultaneously stories on the lives of film artistes like singer Kishore Kumar and renowned writer Sahir Ludhianvi are in the script stages but while films on legends in every field be it law or business is never a problem, somehow stories tracking life of actors have never been easy.

‘Sone Ki Chidiya’ told about a successful star Nutan exploited by her immediate family. Then came ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ about a married filmmaker obsessed with his muse allegedly inspired from Guru Dutt’s life. In ‘Sone Ki Chidiya’ Nutan attempts suicide and in ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ the director is driven to destruction while his muse blossoms in to a successful star. Both these films gave a glimpse in to the working of a film studio. Kaifi Azmi’s immortal song “Waqt ne kiya...”enhanced the feelings of the characters lovingly shot by cameraman VK Murthy in his signature lighting.

Two decades later, Hrishikesh Mukherjee through the eyes of a small-town girl ‘Guddi’ unraveled the mysteries and broke many myths. The film was as much about the grime and the heartache as about the glamour and power of show business. Starring Dharmendra as a real life super star who helps the teenager see through the pretentious world emphasised that not all that glitters is gold.

Shyam Benegal’s ‘Bhumika’ inspired from Shanta Aapte’s ‘Sangte Aaika’ also released in the 70s was about the journey of an actress through her various relationships. Shot in black & white, sepia tones and later colour reflected the different eras of filmmaking-the different trends reflected through the costumes and sets of that time. Smita Patil transforms from the gawky teenager to a woman of the world but despite resounding success and economic independence she is oppressed by the husband and doomed to a life of gloom. Two more films released during the 70s with cinema as a backdrop were Vinod Pandey’s ‘Ek Baar Phir’ where Suresh Oberoi plays a self absorbed star and Deepti Naval his neglected wife who opts out of her loveless marriage. In ‘Do Anjaane’ Amitabh supposed to be dead traces his wife Rekha now a superstar and teaches her a lesson.

In the 80s ‘Sitara’ starring Zarina Wahab and Mithun Chakraborty failed to make an impact but Salim Khan scripted and Mahesh Bhatt directed ‘Janam’ starring Anita Kanwar as the asthmatic illegitimate wife of a famous filmmaker and her dream to see her son successful was a refreshing story that delved on the insecurities of the creative world. In the 90s Ram Gopal Varma made ‘Rangeela’ and later ‘Mast’ starring Urmila Matondkar as a star. In the former the actress returns to her roots, in ‘Mast’ she escapes with a fan but unlike ‘Sone Ki Chidiya’ this one ends on a happy note.

In 2000 RG Varma completed his cinema trilogy with ‘Naach’ a love story of a struggling actor and a choreographer. Farah Khan’s ‘Om Shanti Om’ was a revenge story of a junior artiste in love with a superstar and ‘Luck By Chance’ about the dream world of the junior artistes. I have my doubts of Chintuji clicking at the box-office. It is an interesting idea marred by flawed execution. Part of the problem is in fusing fact with fiction and part in the superstition that stories based on film world are seldom successful. ‘Om Shanti Om’ was.

Perhaps the audience likes watching films as films and don’t want to know the making of it. Perhaps they feel it takes away the magic. On the other hand there is a great curiosity for real life stories and that is the reason films based on real incidents like ‘Black Friday’ or ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ have been appreciated. It was not so a few years ago. Jagmohan Mundhra had to struggle with ‘Bawandar’ based on the gang-rape of Sanwari Devi by the thakurs and even for Kamala based on The Indian Express story where a journalist purchased a tribal girl to make his point and evoked moral debates.

‘Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke’ based on the infamous Nanavati case was about a naval officer who, on learning of his wife’s involvement with his best friend, murdered the friend and surrendered himself to law. The erring wife was played by the beautiful Leela Naidu. The script added an angle of loneliness that drives the wife to another man to justify the affair but the orthodox audience was not placated and all sympathies were for the husband played by Sunil Dutt.

The lesser known films inspired by real people include Sai Paranjpye’s ‘Deesha’ about a villager in Maharashtra who spent his entire life digging a well because he was convinced that he would find water or Shyam Benegal’s ‘Samar’ inspired from an incident in Madhya Pradesh following the installation of a water pump in Dalit basti, and the ensuing upper-caste protest. Pooja Bhatt’s ‘Tamanna’ about a eunuch and the social pressures he faces in adopting a girl-child was drawn from the life of a tea-stall owner Tikku, living in the Mahim Causeway, Mumbai.

Benegal’s ‘Sardari Begum’ focused on the life of a thumri singer who suffered a fatal head injury during a communal riot while ‘Gadar – Ek Prem Katha’ is inspired by the life of Butta Singh, a Hindu who married a Muslim girl. Set in post partition the Muslims are sent across border in the wake of new laws and Butta Singh is separated from his wife and child. Determined to win them back, he slips into Pakistan, and becomes a martyr for his love. The film was originally made as ‘Shaheed-e-Mohabbat’ by Gurudas Mann with Divya Dutta.

Everybody remembers that Phoolan Devi sued the filmmaker of ‘Bandit Queen’, and it required a great number of accusations, negotiations and pre-conditions before the film made it to the theatres. Ditto with Vinay Shukla’s ‘Godmother’ based on the life of Santokben Jadeja, the feared don of Jamnagar. ‘Lajja’ was inspired by the gang-rape and gruesome murder of Siya Dulari, a 40-year-old dalit woman, by members of the upper-caste. As expected, the film’s release was preceded by various court cases, and the first screening disrupted by violent protests.

Nobody had envisioned that a time would come when reality would become more interesting than fantasy but it has, perhaps it is a reflection of the turbulent times we live in.

- Bhawana Somaaya/ @bhawanasomaaya

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