New Delhi: Bollywood’s love for sports biopics has long been evident, but the Hindi film industry now seems to be turning to the specific genre of women and sports films to drive theatrical audiences, as real slice-of-life stories emerge and female-led cinema finds more favour at the box office.
This Diwali, Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu will play 60-year old real-life sharpshooters in Saand Ki Aankh. The biographical film directed by Tushar Hiranandani is based on the lives of Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, sisters-in-law from Uttar Pradesh, who are recognised as one of the oldest in the field.
Parineeti Chopra is prepping to play badminton player Saina Nehwal in a biopic titled Saina, directed by Amol Gupte and slated for a 2020 release. Pannu has already announced a film, Rashmi Rocket, on a fictional Gujarat-based athlete to be produced by Ronnie Screwvala and directed by Akarsh Khurana, who had earlier helmed Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Karwaan. There are also reports of biopics on badminton player P.V. Sindhu and cricketer Mithali Raj being in the works.
As megastars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan fail to grab the kind of eyeballs they used to at the box office, a new generation of actors has invested in slice-of-life stories that resonate with audiences because they see those characters emanating from their own lives.
Of late, several films with major stars in the lead have failed to create ripples. The list of flops includes Karan Johar’s period drama Kalank (with box office collections of ₹80.03 crore), Yash Raj Films’ action adventure Thugs Of Hindostan ( ₹138.34 crore), Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero ( ₹88.74 crore), and Salman Khan’s Tubelight ( ₹114.57 crore), which was directed by Kabir Khan. These have been accompanied by sleeper hits such as Ayushmann Khurrana-starrers Dream Girl ( ₹101.62 crore) and Badhaai Ho ( ₹134.46 crore), as well as director Nitesh Tiwari’s comedy drama Chhichhore ( ₹120.28 crore).
“Real-life stories have really taken off in the last few years and some of them have even been received well," said Akarsh Khurana. The director said Rashmi Rocket is a human drama based on a fictional character from the Kutch region and her search for an identity.
“There has also definitely been a rise in the number of stories on achievers, be it M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story, or Mission Mangal," he added.
Sameer Chopra, head of marketing, Reliance Entertainment, which is co-producing Saand Ki Aankh, said it is important to notice that there are a lot of such inspiring people in our country and their journeys are worth taking to the millions of people out there through the medium of cinema.
“They are people who have gone through hardships, but still made a difference to the society, and emerged victorious. Chandro and Prakashi (the real-life sharpshooters), in Saand Ki Aankh, are two such women, who have made our country so proud at an age when no one would expect them to," Chopra said.
Sports biopics have always been a popular genre in the West with films including Hugh Hudson’s Chariots Of Fire (1981) on the 1924 Olympics, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) on boxer Jake LaMotta, and Will Smith-starrer Ali (2001) on the life of Muhammad Ali.
The recent success of Bollywood sports biopics, starting with Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Mary Kom (2014), Dangal (2016), and M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), has paved the way for a lot of these new female sports films.
Films on male sportspersons, too, have grabbed eyeballs, such as Kabir Khan’s ‘83, which tells the story of Kapil Dev’s 1983 World Cup win, with Ranveer Singh in the lead. For the audiences, the sports biopic offers the charm of watching stories of human triumph, besides witnessing movie stars assume the roles of known sports personalities, pushing themselves out of traditional comfort zones and seeking critical appreciation, said industry experts.
It is also important to note the increasing box office viability of female-led films. The genre has always had torchbearers such as Hema Malini, Rekha and Sridevi since the 1970s when they carried on an industry parallel to male superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan. They were followed by Madhuri Dixit and Meenakshi Seshadri in the late 1980s and 1990s, while more names such as Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut, and Alia Bhatt have made the list richer in recent years. Bhatt’s Raazi netted ₹122.39 crore last year, while Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi notched up ₹90.81 crore earlier this year. Other projects led by women such as Neerja ( ₹71.76 crore), Lipstick Under My Burkha ( ₹16.52 crore) and Veere Di Wedding ( ₹80.27 crore) have also been success stories.
“Women are no longer showpieces in films. Perhaps, this also has to do with the rising contribution of women as audience members over the past two decades," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “A lot more women are going to cinema theatres now and, unlike earlier, they are not dependent on their fathers or husbands to take them and can venture out on their own. These stories tend to inspire them," Mohan added.