Why historical movies are a subject of debate?

When you make a biopic on historical figures and take creative independence to tamper with the history, you are sure to become a victim of controversy. Padmavati, a historical movie based on Chittor’s Queen Padmini has raised more debate, heated arguments even before its release.

Making a historical movie is a risky business. K. Asif’s movie – Mughal-E-Azam took 15 years to complete. Based on the love story of Salim & Anarkali, every moment of the movie was lavish, memorable and larger than life. Whether Anarkali really existed or was a fictional character is a subject of research. The audience loved and applauded the movie. The earlier audiences just wanted to enjoy movies. Now the dynamics of movie making has changed. Movie makers want to take creative liberties and make movie as per their vision. In pursuit of achieving cinematic excellence, they end up hurting the sentiments of their target audience. When a film maker is making a movie on a historical figure, he has to take care that the incidents and events happened in the history are factual and not borrowed from secondary sources like ballads or plays.

When a biopic on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh was announced, many filmmakers chose to make biopic on the legendary freedom fighter. Out of 5 biopics on Bhagat Singh, only 3 movies saw the light of day. It was Ajay Devgan’s movie on Bhagat Singh that was applauded and got critically acclaimed. For the movie makers, biopics on freedom fighters are just a new formula to succeed in industry.

Even Bajirao-Mastani was a subject of debate when it was criticized for the wrong facts shown in the movie. It had shown Bajirao’s wife – Kashibai dancing in the movie. The true fact is that the historical character was suffering from arthritis. Creative liberties sometimes hurt the sentiments of those people attached to that subject.

Oliver Stone’s biopic on Alexander was criticized a lot for its complicated and uninspiring storytelling. The movie showcased on Alexander’s emotional relationship with his general Hephaestion. There were some scenes which questioned Alexander’s morality. Despite the negative criticism, Alexander’s movie stood unique for its story telling. Regardless of what personal life Alexander had, who can question his bravery and zeal to conquer the world?

Even the 2006 Zack Snyder’s movie – 300 was based on a historical event. The war of King Leonidas and his 300 brave Spartan soldiers against King Xerxes was shown very stylishly by director Zack. It looked more of a fantasy movie and less of historical flick. Making movies is a creative art. It should be seen and appreciated as an art. Irrelevant of their inaccuracies, Hollywood historical flicks are thoroughly viewed.

In Hollywood, there are biopics on historical figures like William Wallace, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Lincoln etc. Prior to making a biopic on a specific personality, a huge amount of research is gone behind the subject. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a result of intensive research, discussions and historical studies. Can anyone forget the academy award winning movie – Gandhi made by Richard Attenborough!!

Making historical movies is not everyone’s cup of tea. Whether it is Braveheart or Elizabeth, Hollywood directors have definitely paid attention to present the movie as per the facts. The Hollywood historical dramas are a blend of cinematic excellence and extensive research. Result!! The movies sweep the Oscars.

A well-researched biopic on a historical figure receives attention, critical acclaim and awards. Bollywood needs to learn a lot from Hollywood when it comes to making historical biopics. It is not that Bollywood doesn’t have talented directors. They make movies only to gain 100 crores profit. In earlier times, movies were made with passion. Today only few movies with a good content manage to click while rest is just forgettable. Historical movies like Razia Sultana, Taj Mahal, Jodha Akbar, Jahanara and Mughal-E-Azam are considered a landmark in genre of epic movies.

There is a faint hope that viewers will get to see a good historical movie without any controversy.

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The sword of Tanaji Malusare

‘Every man dies, but not everyone really lives’ – lines from movie ‘Braveheart’

Our today’s generation mind is fascinated with fictional characters from Game of thrones and Bahubali. Kids know about Spartan King Leonidas but have hardly heard about the unsung Maratha warriors like Tanaji Malusare whose ballads are still sung in India. Should we blame the history textbooks or the growing influence of Western culture on our kids? A lot is written, sung on the great warrior Tanaji Malusare but his courageous feat is slowly fading from the minds of younger generations. It is high time that we continue to pass on the stories of our Indian history to our coming generation and this article on Tanaji is a small effort to remember his courageous feats.

The statue of the great maratha warrior – Tanaji

The ‘Povadas’ (Marathi ballads) sung by the folk singers inspired the young men of Maratha Empire to fight for Swarajya and resist the barbaric Mughal empire. Among the trusted comrades, Tanaji Malusare was the most trusted military leader who taken oath along with Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj to fight for Swarajya in Raireshwar temple (Raireshwar is Lord Shiva’s name). Shivaji and Tanaji were close friends during their childhood times and often they planned strategies to capture the forts. With coming times, Shivaji collected a band of brave Mawlas and declared a war on the Mughal Empire. With the help of Tanaji, Baji Prabhu and countless Maratha warriors, Shivaji won many battles. Though Tanaji had fought many battles for Swarajya, it was the battle for Sinhagad that was going to make him immortal in pages of history.

For Tanaji, his call of duty mattered more than his personal things. Such was his devotion to his nation that he left his son’s wedding preparations in middle to march for the battle of Sinhagad. He cared for Swarajya more than his son’s wedding.

By tying the rope on his pet lizard Yashwanti, Tanaji and his troops scaled the fort in the dark of night. The Sinhagad fort was under the control of corrupt Mughal officials Jai Singh and Udaybhan. Tanaji and his handful of men gave a tough fight to the mighty and large numbered enemy soldiers. Tanaji’s sword struck like a thunder bolt, claiming the lives of several enemy soldiers. The battle was bloodied, fierce and fatiguing for Tanaji and his band of brave soldiers. Though Tanaji gave a tough fight to Udaybhan, he was fatally wounded by the sword attacks. The fierce battle marked the end of Tanaji. In the sword fights, the cruel Udaybhan was also killed by Tanaji. Tanaji breathed his last, mortally wounded. He died, but kept his promise of recapturing the Sinhagad fort from the enemies.

Shivaji Maharaj was deeply saddened hearing about the death of his friend Tanaji. He had not only lost a great soldier, but also a close friend.

‘Gad ala pan sinh gela’ were the words uttered by Shivaji Maharaj in remembrance of his brave martyr friend Tanaji. The fort was captured but the lion was dead.

Tanaji’s ballads are still sung today by folk singers in his honor, remembering his courageous deeds and his ultimate sacrifice for Swarajya.

The sad irony about school history textbooks is that it doesn’t describe about the courageous heroes like Tanaji in detail. Kids do study history but only to score marks in exams. I had read about Tanaji Malusare in detail in Amar Chitra Katha books. It had a given a detailed history on Tanaji through illustrations.

Biopic on Tanaji – Viacom 18 is making a biopic on Tanaji Malusare which will have actor Ajay Devgan playing the title role of the great Maratha warrior. The movie is scheduled to release in 2019. I am very sad to see that it took so long time to make a biopic on this brave Maratha warrior. Thankfully, the young masses will be able to see Tanaji on the silver screen soon.

Ajay Devgan as Tanaji in 2019’s forthcoming biopic on the maratha warrior

When you can visit Sinhagad, you can see a bust of the great Maratha Warrior at the fort. Tanaji’s valor won’t be forgotten in the pages of history as long as we continue to carry forward his legacy of courage and patriotism.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh – A biopic of an unsung hero

On 23rd March 1931, three bodies of young revolutionaries were smuggled out of prison in midnight. The bodies were secretly cremated to avoid public outrage. The British were clearly aware that handing down the bodies of these 3 revolutionaries to the families will definitely agitate the Indian masses. The dead patriots were not any ordinary people. They were the bold young patriots who shook the British Empire through their revolutionary actions. The patriots were Rajguru, Sukhdev and Sardar Bhagat Singh. Among the three, Bhagat Singh’s name became synonymous with patriotism, sacrifice, courage and dare devilry. What was such fear in minds of British that they had to cremate the body of this brave heart in dark of night? The opening scene of the 2002 biopic – The legend of Bhagat Singh starts with the brutal cremation of these young revolutionaries. The movie then goes in flashback where Bhagat Singh’s father Kishen Singh remembers every event that transformed his son into a brave revolutionary.

ajay-devgan

I still feel patriotic goosebumps whenever I see this patriotic biopic which gives a stiff competition to Richard Attenborough’s biopic on Mahatma Gandhi. From collecting blood soaked earth from Jallianwala Baugh, killing British officer Saunders to hurling bombs at legislative assembly and undergoing hunger strike in jail, the patriotic journey of Bhagat Singh has really been a path of rocks. The titular role of Bhagat Singh is played by Ajay Devgan who fully justifies the role with his realistic, convincing performance which makes him stand apart from the crowd. Though Ajay Devgan didn’t resemble Bhagat Singh completely, it was his power house performance that gave teeth to his words.

The legend of Bhagat is a brilliant biopic on Bhagat Singh
The legend of Bhagat is a brilliant biopic on Bhagat Singh

In 2002, there were five movies on Bhagat Singh lined up for release in June. Out of five movies, only three movies were released in that period. Extensively researched and superbly directed by ace director Raj Kumar Santoshi, The Legend of Bhagat Singh throws a light on various untold facts which were not answered in earlier biopics on Bhagat Singh. His decision of becoming atheist, his opposition to Gandhian views and his far sightedness on situation of India post-independence are the major highlights of this movie. Though he could have preferred to live a comfortable life by running a dairy farm, he selected the hard life of patriotism. The climax scene will break you into tears when the jailor comes to take Bhagat Singh to gallows and Bhagat Singh replies by telling – ‘aaj ek krantikari doosre krantikari se mil raha hai’. These lines were actually spoken by Bhagat Singh in reference to Lenin’s book which he was reading in his final hours before getting executed.

From his childhood, Bhagat Singh had taken a oath to fight against British  Empire
From his childhood, Bhagat Singh had taken a oath to fight against British Empire

What really appealed was the convincing performance of actor Sushant Singh as Sukhdev. Sadly, history never gave Sukhdev the recognition and due which he really deserved. If Sukhdev hadn’t insisted Bhagat Singh to throw bomb in legislative assembly to protest against the public safety bill, then Bhagat Singh wouldn’t have got the recognition and political spotlight. It is very sad to know that today Sukhdev’s family is managing day to day living by selling lotteries. The courtroom scenes, jail torture and debate of Bhagat Singh against the barbaric British government make you applause with pride. The movie not only showcases on Bhagat Singh’s struggle but also highlights the sacrifice of Jatin Das, Rajguru and Chandrashekhar Azad. Though it is very difficult to showcase every single detail of Bhagat Singh’s life in a 2 hour movie, Rajkumar Santoshi has nearly succeeded to highlight all the facts that were related to Bhagat Singh. The popularity of Bhagat Singh was so high that even British women visited jail to get a glimpse of this brave patriot. His hunger strike in jail and growing popularity in a short span overshadowed Gandhi.

legendofbhagat

A.R.Rahman’s music infuses more patriotism in the song – Mera rang de Basanti chola which was sung by Bhagat Singh while marching to the gallows. I feel that this biopic on Bhagat Singh is as brilliant as Mel Gibson’s movie – Braveheart which was based on Scottish patriot William Wallace. Whatever we read in history textbooks about Bhagat Singh is not even 1 % of the actual facts mentioned in the biographies based on his life. On 23rd March 1931 Bhagat Singh smilingly stepped on to the gallows. That day a patriot died and a legend was born. Bhagat Singh’s photo in a hat is as popular as the picture of Che Guevera of Cuba. Even though biopics on patriots of being made, the harsh truth is that we have really forgotten the sacrifice of this brave hero whose teachings are just limited to books, stage plays and movies.
Through this article, I have to revive the memories of Bhagat Singh and his great comrades who were fighting a war they were not going to win.

References – Without Fear: The life and trial of Bhagat Singh by Kuldip Nayar is a highly recommended book on the untold facts of Bhagat Singh’s life.