Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Raut’ers Entertainment present “Thackeray”

Produced by: Sanjay Raut

Directed by: Abhijit Panse

Written by: Abhijit Panse & Arvind Jagtap with Manoj Yadav (Hindi dialogues)

Music: Rohan-Rohan

Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao, Rajesh Khera, Sanjay Narwekar, Prakash Belawadi, Nikhil Mahajan, Bachan Pachehra, Sonamoni Jayant, Sonamoni Jayant & others

A film is a film is a film. You may or may not like the personality on whom you are making a biopic (Sanjay Dutt, for example, Dr, Manmohan Singh for another) but what matters is the way his life is executed on celluloid with the perfect dose of dramatization, emotions and, above all, entertainment. In that sense, the 2011 film “The Dirty Picture” remains a landmark, for this Silk Smitha life story attempted, all of eight years back, to teach the industry that no matter what the scale, genre and intent of the film, it should primarily be about “entertainment, entertainment an entertainment!”

“Thackeray” falls in the category of controversial figures’ life stories told on celluloid. Among the political names, we had a disastrous “Bose,” which matched a sleeping pill for its bore quotient, a fiery, gripping but politically scuttled “Savarkar” (which got release only in two states of India). We now have a film on the Tiger of Maharashtra, Balasaheb (Bal Keshav Prabodhankar) Thackeray.

The film is told ingeniously, even if, out of necessity, episodically. It shows the dot points (the milestones) of Thackeray’s life, leaving us to imagine or seek details about the lines that join the dots. It begins with the post-Babri arrest and trial of Thackeray in Lucknow, which is interspersed with the narration of the genesis of the Marathi (and later Hindutva) icon from a fearless cartoonist of the late 1950s to a political giant.

Time and again, we get to know Thackeray’s views – how he has no enmity with Islam or even its practitioners, how his sense of fair play is outraged as much by timid editors who refuse to encourage his fearless cartoons and by Maharashtrians getting a raw deal in their home state as by the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. We become aware of his definition of Maharashtrians to include all born in the city, his sense of propriety about various aspects of life, and his views on the violence his followers unleash,

Having watched the original Marathi version (we see the perfect lip-synch, showing the effort Siddiqui and all non-Maharashtrian actors have put into their lines), we also note the way the other characters are cast for their near-resemblance to the real characters they portray.

Director and co-writer Abhijit Panse deserves full-on encomiums from structuring a refreshing, fast-paced narrative that presents a gritty, hard-hitting insight into the charismatic leader who had the staunch support in everything he did of his father, the illustrious Prabodhankar, his wife Meenatai, brother Shrikant and all others.

As a script, the film is non-judgmental, open and candid about the controversial aspects of his life and maintains that perfect tight-rope between realism and larger-than-life entertainment. And that’s not easy in any film, despite the fact that Thackeray WAS a larger-than-life character! Arvind Jagtap’s lines, especially many one-liners, are magnificent, showcasing the bluntness minus any sham or fakeness of the illustrious leader as well as the traits of all the other characters.

Above all, Panse must be congratulated for his directorial masterstrokes that come at intervals in the film, like the use of animation to show the plight of Maharashtrians then (as Thackeray was a cartoonist), his imagination running riot as he watches an English cartoon feature at one of the city’s premium theatres – Eros – amidst affluent non-Maharashtrians, his meeting with Indira Gandhi, his sharp digs at houseguest Sharad Pawar, his interaction with the hapless prosecuting attorney in Lucknow, and even what he does with the poor Muslim family that visits him in desperation after the Mumbai riots.

The sequence on the beach, where he and Meenatai sit on a private outing surrounded by a bevy of security guards, is tellingly significant about the constrained private life of such leaders. Last but emphatically not the least of the masterly touches is about how most parts of the film earlier are shown in black-and-white.

We also come to know of so many aspects as yet little-discussed or known – like his support of the Emergency only because of the discipline it claimed to enhance, his turning from a pro-Maharashtrian to a pro-Hindu leader, the attempts on his life, how the Shiv Sena was named and formed, the few points on which he attempted to change things and failed and so on.

Hosannas are due for every technician involved, and the absolutely flawless depiction of Mumbai from the past, with its trams, the nostalgic and beautiful views of Churchgate and the Metro cinema areas, vintage Eros cinema and all the locations shown. Details about residential fittings, sartorial trends et al. are authentically reproduced so that the research team deserves as many hosannas as the executors of the VFX (Prime Focus and others).

Editors Ashish Mhatre and Apurva Motiwale (at 2.19 hours, the film does not seem to have an extra frame or lose grip for a moment), cinematographer Sudeep Chaterjee, production designer Sandeep Sharad Ravade, costume designer Santosh Garve, Kiran Kamble (make-up and hair) and Pritisheell Singh (prosthetics) all excel. After “Simmba,” background music composer Amar Mohile again scores (pun intended) high, and in fact, his exceptionally fabulous work in the first 10 minutes sets the mood and tone for the entire film.

A befittingly towering performance is how we can best describe Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s work as Thackeray in a nutshell. For this reason, it is actually more important in a way to congratulate Rohan Mapuskar (casting director) and the other decision-makers of the film to have the vision to see Siddiqui as their protagonist. Yet again, Siddiqui walks that tightrope between imitating the leader and yet not becoming a caricature.

Amrita Rao, understated, is actually phenomenal as his wife. Rajesh Khera as Morarji Desai, and the actors playing Sharad Pawar, Vasantrao Naik, Prabodhankar Thackeray, Indira Gandhi and “Free Press Journal” editor are all brilliant.

Watch this one even if you do not believe in Thackeray’s principles and philosophy. No political biopic has been as gripping since “Savarkar” all of 18 years ago.

Rating: ****1/2

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