Women of cinematic substance

Women of cinematic substance

With biopics becoming box-office fodder, it is now the right time to immortalise these powerhouse performers, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

Deepika Padukone

Biopics seem to be the current flavour in Bollywood. A two-hour plus biopic capsules an entire life and so, only the most engaging elements have to be incorporated, while facts must be presented accurately to avoid needless controversies. The third angle — of a physical resemblance between the real woman and her film counterpart — is preferable but not obligatory, and in some cases, not even possible despite latest prosthetics and make-up.

As Priyanka Chopra Jonas put it when she had done Mary Kom in 2013, “The scale of any motion picture needed to do justice to her life could not have been matched by a new face. How many of the five commercially popular actresses today have a North-Eastern face? Look, plainly put, I needed to show her spirit, not her face. And she is an Indian.”

Most biopics of living people find our stars interacting with them, and the camaraderie between Priyanka and Mary Kom or Deepika and Laxmi Agarwal was all-too-evident in their pictures and on social media. In cases where the protagonist is no more, the actresses, writers and filmmakers interact a lot with their families. Here are some distinguished names immortalised for posterity in cinema:

Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Aisha & Aditi Chaudhary:
The Sky Is Pink

Real: Aisha, who died at the age of 19, was the daughter of Niren
Chaudhary, a successful executive, and Aditi, a mental healthcare worker. She was born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), but the spunky girl, in her lifetime, wrote a book My Little Epiphanies, released one day before her death, and was a motivational speaker. Aditi too, was a very strong parent who resolutely did her best for her.

Reel: Zaira ‘Dangal’ Wasim, who quit films on religious grounds, and
Priyanka Chopra Jonas played the two roles, Priyanka even producing this as her first Hindi production. Sadly, the Shonali Bose-directed film did not do well.

Taapsee Pannu
Taapsee Pannu

Chandro Tomar & Prakash Tomar: Saand Ki Aankh

Real: Known as Shooter Dadi and Revolver Dadi respectively, these two
feisty grandmothers, who are both now 80-plus, began to compete professionally as late as when they were over 60 and have received multiple trophies and honours. Fighting for the cause of women following their dreams in a patriarchal society, the two sisters-in-law spawned many more professional shooters from their families.

Reel: The Tusshar Hiranandani-directed film was wrongly released around Diwali and flopped despite critical acclaim. Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu sparkled in these roles.

Gunjan Saxena: Gunjan Saxena—The Kargil Girl

Real: Flight lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, the daughter of an Army officer, was the first Indian Air Force woman officer who actually went to war. She made history during the 1999 Kargil war when she flew her aircraft into a combat zone and rescued many soldiers.

Reel: One film old Jahnvi Kapoor gets to sink her teeth into this meaty role. The film releases on April 24.

Kangana Ranaut
Kangana Ranaut

Jayalalitha: Thalaivi

Real: You can love her or hate her, but everyone knows this rather
controversial actress-politician from Tamil Nadu who became its Chief Minister as well.

Reel: Kangana Ranaut gets to play her role, and her reel face, thanks to
modern make-up technology, is astoundingly near the countenance of the real political giant. The film will release in three languages this year.

Laxmi Agarwal: Chhapaak

Real: She was attacked with acid after rebuffing the amorous advances of a youth. She evolved into a campaigner for rights of acid-attack victims and even became a TV host.

Reel: The highlight of this Deepika Padukone film was her make-up. Sadly, Meghna Gulzar’s scripting and direction let her down. The film was a washout despite decent reviews and Laxmi’s support.

Mary Kom: Mary Kom

Real: The Padma Vibhushan-winning Indian Olympic boxer is the only
woman to become the World Amateur Boxing champion six times and the only Indian boxer to win eight World Championship medals. She achieved almost all her feats after her marriage.

Reel: Priyanka Chopra Jonas trained in boxing and even ‘muscled up’ for the role. This Sanjay Bhansali production did good business in 2013.

Mithali Raj: Shabaash Mithu

Real: Captain of the Indian women’s national cricket team in Tests and ODIs, Mithali Dorai Raj is considered one of the greatest batswoman ever, and is the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket. A record holder in many aspects, she is the only player across both genders to have captained India in more than one ICC ODI World Cup finals in 2005 and 2017. She is also the first woman to complete 20 years in international cricket.

Reel: Taapsee Pannu, a master at films in which a female protagonist drives a story, essays her in the film directed by Rahul Dholakia. She announced this film last December.

Neerja Bhanot: Neerja

Real: Neerja Bhanot was a flight purser who lost her life while saving
passengers on a hijacked plane. Posthumously, she was awarded the Ashoka Chakra.

Reel: Sonam Kapoor (now Sonam K Ahuja) put in an award-winning
performance in the Ram Madhvani film that was a money-spinner in 2016.

Rani Laxmibai: Manikarnika—The Queen Of Jhansi

Real: Rani Laxmibai, real name Manikarnika, is perhaps the only female freedom fighter known pan-India and worldwide, being one of our most famous historical figures.

Reel: Kangana Ranut got to essay Laxmibai, and later, even took over the film’s direction amidst controversy. The film did not do well and was generally panned for being more Kangana-centric than doing justice to the queen, who had earlier been depicted more faithfully in his epic 1953 flop Jhansi Ki Rani.

Parineeti Chopra
Parineeti Chopra

Saina Nehwal: Saina

Real: The professional badminton singles player has achieved several
milestones in badminton for India. A former world no 1, she has won over 24 international titles. She is the second Indian player — after Deepika’s father Prakash Padukone — to achieve this feat, and has also played in three Olympics and won a bronze once.

Reel: Parineeti Chopra has trained in the sport with Saina for this Amole
Gupte-directed film that will release later this year.

Richa Chadha
Richa Chadha

Shakeela: Shakeela

Real: C Shakeela John hailed from a conservative Muslim family and soon became a superstar and sex-symbol in all four regional cinemas down South. Most of her movies, however, were labelled as soft-porn B-graders. In 2002, she decided not to act in B-grade cinemas.

Reel: The modest-budgeted movie is directed by Indrajit Lankesh, who has actually directed her before planning her biopic. Richa Chadha plays the lead in the December 2020 release.

Vidya Balan
Vidya Balan

Shakuntala Devi: Shakuntala Devi

Real: Popularly known as a “human computer”, she features in The
Guinness Book of World Records and has been a much-celebrated author of
books on mathematics, puzzles, and astrology, besides fiction and The World Of Homosexuals, considered the first study of homosexuality in India.

Reel: Anu Menon directs Vidya Balan as the genius in this May 8 release.

Silk Smitha: The Dirty Picture

Real: Vijayalakshmi Vadlapati a.k.a. Silk Smitha entered the industry as a small-time actress and was first noticed for her role as Silk in the 1979 Tamil film Vandichakkaram. Over 450 films in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi saw her predominantly as a sex-symbol. Known for her controversial and amorous life, she committed suicide at an early age.

Reel: Vidya Balan essayed the role in one of the biggest hits of 2011, which was directed by Milan Luthria.

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