Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao
Director: Abhijit Panse
The occasional self-doubt that Nawazuddin Siddiqui displayed in the biopic of Saadat Hasan Manto is completely absent in his second biopic in four months. In Thackeray, a film based on the life and theories of Shiv Sena founder Bal Keshav Thackeray, popularly known as Balasaheb, Nawazuddin has attempted playing a controversial political figure with a big heart and total zeal.
Given the kind of biopics Bollywood produces, it wasn't audacious to expect a botched up, idol worshipping, contorted storyline with sole aim of energising the party cadres ahead of the all-important general elections of 2019, but Thackeray surprises from the word go. It takes the popular hardliner image of Bal Thackeray and amplifies its effect by not holding back anything. There is absolutely no qualm in propagating ideas that can be divisive and can instigate violence. The makers are not hesitant in presenting Thackeray as somebody who used violence, or at least was in favour of using it, as a means to instill peace. Ironically, such a tactic takes Thackeray closer to authenticity. There isn’t any desire to please political opponents.
The transformation of a young person struggling to make ends meet into a ruthless, not so democratic leader has been segregated into chapters. We meet his father, played by Mukund Gosawi, whose reputation helps an ambitious cartoonist set up his own magazine. In a fantastic animated opening sequence, we see the germ of the idea of a Marathi one-upmanship forming in the head of a young cartoonist.
The film wants us to believe that the rise of the angry Marathi consciousness against the dominant South Indians in Mumbai, then Bombay, in the ‘60s, was the result of an apparent humiliation and disdain thrown at the poor natives. With a tiger’s roar in the background, it soon changes into a physical fight between the locals and the so called ‘outsiders.’ This emotion is so overriding in its approach that there is no scope to tone it down later in the film. Thackeray’s use of violence has been justified in as many words. He gets rivals beaten to pulp and mouths dialogues like ‘Laal Bandar ki jaat ko yahaan se mitaana padega (This breed of red monkeys has to be chased away),’ in an apparent jibe on left labour unions and their modus operandi.
Nawazuddin’s Bal Keshav, in a way, is also the ‘sutradhar’ of his own story. There are long narrations and no ambiguity in views on Hitler, emergency or the Muslims. Thackeray‘Marathi Maanus,’ and how it could mean the end of the world to millions residing in and around Mumbai.
The first film in the series, the sequel is teased during end credits, captures the journey of a family man to becoming Mumbai’s most powerful social figure. While ruffling many feathers on his way, he claims ownership to many bloody episodes, but viewing Thackeray only as a publicity tool wouldn’t do justice to its artistic merit.
There are enough metaphors, some really remarkable ones, to make you look for the director’s name in the credits. In one of the sequences where Thackeray talks about stopping the left forces, he has been shown slicing a marigold plant with a scissor. Everything, except a blooming flower, is in black and white. You start focusing on the flower and it begins acquiring a deeper colour.
The story has been told in flashbacks during a court room trial about Shiv Sena’s role in the Babri Mosque demolition case in an Uttar Pradesh court where Thackeray is defending himself. A man, whose party waged an open war against the migrants, behaves like a king on an alien turf. Talk of 'projection'!
Then there are references to current and former politicians like Sharad Pawar, Morarji Desai, Indiara Gandhi, George Fernandez and Vasant Rao. These snippets make for an interesting watch and keep the audiences hooked for 140 minutes. However, here’s the thing — bold views in a film can’t envelope notorious tactics in real life, so I wouldn’t blame you if you hold it against Bal Thackeray and his party members who have galvanized resources to make this film.
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