Cinema The Bangalore Literature Festival made a detour to embrace a discussion on biopics, taking the recent success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Bhumika K. brings you the highlights

That Indians love their cinema and idolise film-wallahs is a foregone conclusion. On the opening day of the three-day Bangalore Literature Festival, held in the heart of Electronics City, the organisers tapped into this very zealousness for films, with a discussion on “The Making of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Has Indian Cinema Finally Woken up to Biopics?”. Needless to say, it was a crowd-puller.

Necks craned to catch a glimpse of Farhan Akhtar, people braved the midday sun on Crowne Plaza’s lawns, with shades and umbrellas, sat on grass, under the marquees, under the shady willows. The young brigade from the neighbouring IT companies thronged the session timed around their lunchbreak, and whooped in joy, fished out their phone cameras and iPads, listened with stars in their eyes, and even wrung an impromptu “Rock On!” out of Farhan.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB) director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, and writer Prasoon Joshi, with Farhan were led in the discussion by film journalist and author of two filmi biographies Bhawna Somaaya; her book Talking Cinema was released. While the discussion was more about the making of BMB itself, and events and anecdotes surrounding its making, it didn’t really address whether Indian cinema had “finally woken up to the biopic”. But then, the topic in itself was skewed, considering Indian cinema hasn’t had a dearth of biopics.

The success of the film, however, has brought attention, yet again, to the genre. Mehra said his film was not a true-blue biopic, and is only “inspired” by the life of Milkha Singh. The director said he took the audience through his journey from when he discovered Singh’s autobiography in Gurumukhi and made the connect with Milkha Singh. “I didn’t know initially what made me connect with Milkhaji, but as the story developed, I found the answer — it was Partition, that historical black moment.” Milkha, like many other children of Partition, had a tortured childhood. “This story is not only about the triumph of the spirit, but deep down, a story of healing,” said Mehra. “We were trying to find the Milkha Singh in us and translate it into film for you to find him in yourself.” Mehra also reinforced the fact that cinema takes its “raw material” from life and the filmmaker reinterprets it.

Later, when the session opened up to audience questions, the discussion veered to how Hollywood humanises celebrities in its biopics while we make demi-gods of them. “There is a heroism, something extraordinary about such people to attract us to their stories,” Joshi defended our films. “When I started writing BMB, I wanted to be inspired and in the process inspire people. We eulogise, and fall in love with him.” Farhan, meanwhile, spoke of how “heroes emerge from our society; they don’t fall out of the sky”. Someone in the audience from Lahore, while reiterating that people across the border too feel the need for healing, wondered if a film like this gave scope to catharsis. Mehra responded: “Emotionally we are not divided. The whole hatred has been fed into us. There is a need to take an eraser of love and erase the line. The onus of building bridges lies with us ; we can’t leave it to politicians.”

Shifting the focus back to the film and its writing, Joshi spoke of how the element of Milkha’s “struggle” to make it against the odds connected him with the film. How much of a biopic is imaginary, was much debated. “To write a story you have to be a psycho-analyst…and then you start adding your imagination to it.” Reality and fiction get mixed at some point. “In life there’s nothing called fiction. Anything you write is inspired from somewhere or someone. But do you call it art or a documentary? You are creating cinema, and you have to create moments — that line never gets drawn,” he reiterated. Mehra agreed with Joshi, saying, “Movies are not homogenous; we’re not making cars. It’s written with emotions and you’re dealing with individuals. Once a film is released, you make it your own, the audience, ticket by ticket. That’s the beauty of cinema. That’s why it’s called a modern day art form.”

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