Few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of a television serial on Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the co-founder of Mauryan Empire in 322 BC. The TV serial sounded more like a daily soap than a history drama. However, it caught my attention when one of the central characters of the TV serial, uncovers the name of Chandragupta Maurya’s father – ‘Maharaj Suryagupta Maurya‘. On the hearing the name of the Emperor’s father, I was not surprised but shocked. No history-records till date, had the name of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya’s father. Till the start of the TV serial in the year 2016 AD, Emperor Chandragupta was shepherd, who was mentored by Chanakya to lay the foundations of Mauryan empire but suddenly a biopic drama made him a royal, whose father too was a king. This little episode aided me to judge the cruel fact that ‘history’ has become a casualty of ‘creativity’.
Freedom of expression is important for an artist but this concept should not be misunderstood for the total manipulation of facts. I completely understand that in order to make a biopic viable for the common audiences, it needs to be sprinkled with some entertainment. However, that entertainment should be only used in the presentation of historic facts in an appealing manner and not in the creation of new ‘facts’. The makers of biopic shows should understand that the common audiences of India are not historians and they can easily misunderstand a piece of fiction for a historic fact. The majority of audiences are the one, who have understandably not touched a history book after their school education (not everyone is passionate about the subject of history). Although, this does not mean that the biopic makers should exploit the half-baked history knowledge of the Indian audiences and sketch caricatures of the history heroes on TV and Silver screens.
I am history lover and I have no hesitation in confessing that as a child, TV serials and movies were the only medium of my connect with the history of India (other than my school history textbooks). The Television biopics were largely responsible for my fascination for the subject of history. I still remember, I would eagerly wait for Sundays so that I could watch the one hour biopic serial. I am confident, even today, this must be the story of a million households in India. Even today, the children must be in love with the biopics presented on today’s TV sets with 999+ channels. Although, today’s generation does not wait for a Sunday to watch the exploits of their heroes because they have YouTube videos on their fingertips.
Biopics play a very important role in a country like India, where the subject of history is mostly limited to the school text books. We, Indians may dislike the fact that no real attempts are made at the Government’s level to preserve and promote historic monuments and even historic characters. Almost 360 hill forts of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, in the state of Maharashtra are in ruins and they epitomize the apathy of our administration. This gross neglect of ours is further complicated by our ‘sincere’ effort to preserve the British legacy. Many streets, railway stations and junctions across India are named after Britishers, who considered India as a mere cash-cow. Unless, the legacies of our invaders are replaced with the legacies of daughters and sons of Indian soil, the names like Queen Kittur Chennamma, Bappa Rawal or Ibrahim Khan Gardi will be as foreign to our children as the Britishers were to this country. The lack of interest of our administrators in preserving the real symbols of our history makes biopics, the only easily available source of transmitting information about our history to our next generation. The makers of biopics should thus shoulder the responsibility of presenting correct history before their audiences.
It is very childish to read the disclaimers before the start of any biopic presentation dealing with real characters. They state: “The characters shown in the presentation does not bear any resemblance to anyone dead or alive…” According to me, these caveats are used by the biopic makers as a licenses to distort History in the name of ‘creative freedom’. These disclaimers are nothing but producer’s shields to fight any consequential legality arising out of the deceptive presentation of historic facts. The duplicity of the biopic makers gets totally exposed in the promotion events of their venture. The lead actor leave no stone unturned in convincing the audiences of the event that his upcoming movie is his ‘tribute’ to the ‘historic character’ and he is ‘deeply honoured’ to play that character. And now comes the cherry on the cake – everyone (even the descendant of the biopic character) present in the room, conveniently forgets about the disclaimer that going to precede the biopic presentation. The biopic makers just want their audiences to believe that once the movie releases, they are going witness a real history.
In the end, I sincerely wish that biopic-makers understand the simple fact that history is the only subject where inventions are not possible. If they refuse to account this fact then the disclaimers that they use to protect themselves, cannot shield them from the wrath of the common man. The recent manhandling of Producer and Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an example. Now, whether the actions of people, who took law in their hands are justified in this very case, is for the courts to answers. However, the systematic mutilation of the history of our land by the movie and serial makers over years, is a proof enough to justify the anger of the common man against the bollywood director.