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Tracing biopics that were sincere portrayals of noteworthy Indian politicos
Shreya Paul
Sep 02, 2021

Indian history has been shaped considerably by its politics. Ever since the end of a post-colonial hangover, the nation has risen to prominence through the political ideologies that parties propagated for their respective reigns. Figures from various walks of life have graced positions of power and shaped the socio-economic narratives of Indian states.

Several films have tried to encapsulate these personalities for immortality on celluloid. Some have passed muster as authentic depictions, while others have skirted their fair share of controversies in the manner of depiction.

Here’s a list of biopics that have managed an authentic portrayal of political figures.

7.7OTTplay Rating
Keeping veteran actor Paresh Rawal at its epicentre, Ketan Mehta’s biographical feature about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel charted the freedom fighter’s political career as he tried manoeuvring a nation to Independence. Having focused on the latter half of his active years, Mehta captured the crucial moment in Patel’s life when he tried to lead a people reconciling post-Independence crises, both economic and of their identity. The film deftly charts the astute politician’s strained relationship with the then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru; how both their ideologies on the integration of princely states within the new geographical boundaries sat opposite to each other and how Patel negotiated partition meetings amidst a strained environment with Lord Mountbatten and the Mahatma.
N.T.R. Kathanayakudu
5.5OTTplay Rating
This 2019 Telugu biographical film on Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao captures succinctly the myriad roles the larger-than-life person carried out. From an actor-turned-filmmaker to the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (for three terms), the film follows NTR. But what director Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi achieves through his keen lens is an empathetic portrayal of a man who could be as vulnerable as he was resolute. While the first half of the film focuses on Rama Rao’s meteoric rise in the film industry as a bankable actor. Worthy of mention is his steely resilience to finish shoot despite the news of his son’s death. Meanwhile, the second half emphasises his in-road into state politics and how he shone in that field. The film takes a detailed overview of NTR’s unflinching contribution during the periods of Emergency and how he slid into the role of a people’s person just as easily, notwithstanding his deified status in the region.
5.3OTTplay Rating
Abhijit Panse’s Bal Thackeray biopic picked up the narrative of Shiv Sena politico who successfully reigned over Maharashtra for more than four decades. Nawazuddin Siddiqui steps into Thackeray’s proverbial saffron shawl to enliven the polarising man’s political doctrines. The film focuses on his crucial role as a staunch family man too. Sensitive moments shared with wife Meena (Amrita Rao) give glimpses of the man’s vulnerable side. To the makers’ credit, the film does not shy away from depicting Thackeray’s trial for allegedly inciting the demolition of the ill-fated Babri Masjid. From his early days as an aspiring journalist and founder of a weekly journal titled Marmik, to his established position as a political honcho, Thackeray deals with the real-life character unabashedly.
8.4OTTplay Rating
Arguably the most controversial entry to this list, Gulzar’s film never officially claimed any similarity to Indira Gandhi, the then-Prime Minister of India. Bengali film industry’s reigning queen Suchitra Sen stepped into the shoes of the prolific Mrs Gandhi, easily the most powerful woman in the country’s history till then. Sen’s character Aarti Devi was contradiction personified. Opinionated and polarised, Gulzar chose to focus on the woman’s struggles and personal sacrifices that functioned doggedly to enable a life of politics and public allure. The success of the film at the time of Emergency caused the censor board to hack the film’s release after 20 weeks of continuous theatre runs, which hinted at an obvious discomfort with the glaring similarities between Aarti and Indira.
An Insignificant Man
8.5OTTplay Rating
Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla’s documentary on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) head Arvind Kejriwal. The film covered closely the activities of major figures in AAP including Manish Sisodia, Yogendra Yadav and Santosh Koli. Capturing the interim between December 2012 till the Delhi elections of 2013, An Insignificant Man depicted how a people’s party rose to prominence through its ideals of public service and transparency.
Kissa Kursi Ka
7.7OTTplay Rating
Directed by Amrit Nahata, this political satire was banned by the then-Congress government for its biting commentary of the political ideologies of Indira Gandhi and her elder son Sanjay. The film has gone down in the annals of history as one of the most potent and exemplary works on satire. Nahata’s personal background as a three-time Congress MP before he disbanded from the party in protest against the Emergency, gave the film contextual merit. Apart from that, the central theme of a corrupt and opportunistic protagonist in the film was a more-than-accurate depiction of the multiple layers of corruption deep-seated within Indian politics of the ‘70s.
The Tashkent Files
8OTTplay Rating
Vivek Agnihotri’s film surrounding the death of Indian statesman and second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri provides a brief but potent insight into the man. The film was praised for its theme of trying to uncover the events behind Shahtri’s death via a retrospective lens of the reading of once-controversial Tashkent Files. Even though certain sections of the public noted that the film had its moments of hysteria, the film’s story deserved the received merit.

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