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  • Writer's pictureVedashree Khambete Sharma

The Great Bollywood Biopic

I've been watching a lot of biopic-type movies these days. I came late to the '83 party, but managed to watch Gangubai Kathiawadi and the little-known gem Kaun Pravin Tambe? Now, you'd normally expect a rant, but for a change, this ain't it. Because there is so much to love about these movies, man.

For starters, there is the casting in'83. Ranveer Singh has by now proven that like him or hate him, he is here to stay and play a variety of roles that will make Aamir Khan's repertoire look plain silly. I don't personally like the man, but you cannot deny that he has played Kapil with an understated charm, which is very characteristic of the captain and totally uncharacteristic of the actor. And because of this, '83 isn't a Ranveer Singh extravaganza, leaving the rest of the cast room to shine. Getting Sandeep Patil's son to play his dad is hilarious and awesome. As is getting Mohinder Amarnath to play his own father and exclaim at his mistakes. Tahir Raj Bhasin captures Gavaskar to the t. Jiva's Srikanth is perfect. And together, the team knocks it out of the park.

Indian sports movies tend to take a turn towards the jingoistic and similar accusations have been laid at '83's door. But you know what? At an international level, you ARE fighting another country. Sport is just a socially acceptable form of war and sportsmen are the closest thing we have to warriors, apart from actual soldiers. So a little bit of jingoism is fine in my book. Likewise for the national integration bit they sprinkled in there. It reminded me of a time when Hindi movies would invariably have something like it. I mean what is Amar Akbar Anthony but a love-song for national integration, I ask you. And the business of films is the business of dreams. It's just fine if they try to sell me a dream where this country comes together as one - God knows reality has room to catch up. Till it does, '83 remains a full paisal vasool movie.

Next up, Gangubai Kathiawadi. I've read Mafia Queens of Bombay and the source material is larger-than-life enough to warrant a biopic on the life of this prostitute-turned-brothel-madam. Alia Bhatt is possibly the only actress of her generation who could've done justice to the role, and she does. No arguments there. The writing is rock solid with several whistle-worthy lines. The screenplay is tight. There isn't a moment that seems extraneous. The soundtrack has given us two foot-tapping numbers that are bound to play everywhere in Navratri. And the art direction is trademark Bhansali - infusing even the grimy lanes of Kamathipura with a grungy, vintage charm. To the point that I will even forgive Bhansali his unfathomable penchant for making his leading ladies dance in circles, rhyme, reason and historically documented arthritis notwithstanding.

No, Gangubai is very good. But where I feel it misses greatness is in Alia Bhatt's unchanging appearance. Mere costume alone cannot portray the toll the world's oldest profession and its hardships takes on a woman. Alia is convincing at a fresh-faced teenager, but you're telling me the only difference in her appearance over time will be in her choice of outfit and make-up? Where are the lines on her face? Where is the softening of the body with age?

Hollywood excels at biopics. Actors change their appearance with their characters, and change again with age. The Crown cast a different Queen Elizabeth in each season to match the monarch's changing looks. I'm not saying that was required here, but surely some prosthetics could be rustled up? Some added weight perhaps - with a fat suit if the lady was unwilling to sacrifice her body at the altar of method acting? To me, this was the only sore point in an otherwise wonderful movie. Oh, and Ajay Devgn. I don't know why he was cast as a Pathan. That not so much suspended my disbelief but clean broke it.

Ooh, and now my favourite. Kaun Pravin Tambe? has SO MUCH HEART, YOU GUYS. If you don't already know, it is the story of cricketeer Pravin Tambe, who was picked to play IPL at the ripe old age of 41. That's right, at the age most cricketers retire (and the rest of us wish fervently we could), Pravin Tambe made his debut. His journey is Sisyphean and the movie could easily have been a complete tear-jerker. But instead, what we get is a film that's in turn funny, relatable and inspiring. Sure, there are dramatic flourishes here and there, but you don't mind those. Not really.

Because you're too busy remembering what a fine actor Shreyas Talpade actually is. And how there is so much cultural material that just doesn't make it on screen, thanks to Bollywood's obsession with Sharmas, Varmas and Singhanias (yes, yes, I know what my last name is, the irony is not lost on me). Because seriously? Kaun Pravin Tambe? brings to audiences, a glance into Mumbai chawl-life that is so sharply etched, so heart-warmingly portrayed, it brings a tear to the Maharashtrian eye. The characters are deftly sketched, from the quietly supportive brother to the wife whose anger melts away when you compliment her chiwda. If this film was a person, you would want to pull their cheeks.

But more important than all of this, is the message the film leaves you with, through its main protagonist. In his quest to play Ranji, Pravin Tambe worked at a shipping company, as a diamond sorter, even as a waiter in a dance-bar. We've seen this sort of thing in films before - the protagonist going through drudgery on his way to the top. But what sets Pravin Tambe's string of jobs apart is his attitude. We see him striving to be good at each job he takes. We see him take the effort to learn the ropes and then excel at it, leaving each boss impressed by the pace of his improvement. It is the difference between doing a task and doing it well. It is a work ethic rarely seen today, an attitude that comes simply from the satisfaction of a job done properly. It doesn't matter what the job is, just that he does it as well as he can.

It's a lesson we could all use. Because who among us, in life, gets to do only what we want? Advertising people ABSOLUTELY don't, I can assure you. And authors - well, as I'm finding out, authors are not immune to market diktats either. The best we can hope for is to do the job before us, to the best of our ability and take pride in that. It doesn't make the job any easier or more fulfilling - but it does make each day seem a little lighter.

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