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Thackeray review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui roars in this rushed biopic

Release Date: 25 Jan 2019 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 18min

Read in: Marathi


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Keyur Seta

The Abhijit Panse directorial features Bal Thackeray's journey only till 1995, when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra.

Imagine a Hindi film hero pained by the circumstances of 'his people'. Instead of getting depressed or demotivated, he rises against ‘injustice’ and emerges as a powerful 'leader of the masses'.

This, in a nutshell, is how the protagonist is portrayed in director Abhijit Panse’s film Thackeray, a biopic of the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Keshav Thackeray.

When a biopic on a controversial figure like Thackeray is produced by his own party, it should come as no surprise if he is portrayed almost like a deity and all his actions are justified. That is exactly what the film proceeds to do: whether it is the violence against so-called outsiders in Bombay, as it was called, or the Shiv Sena's self-proclaimed role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and the riots that followed, everything is presented with fawning admiration.

After completing his studies, Thackeray (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a fiery young man, joins The Free Press Journal newspaper as a cartoonist. He attains success but, after a while, his editor does not approve of his bold ways of projecting the political situation in the country. This part is reminiscent of the problems the protagonist in Nandita Das's Manto (2018), played by the same actor in similar clothing, faced in his career.

The editorial curb is enough for Thackeray to resign in filmi fashion. He goes on to start his own satirical magazine, Marmik. His concern for the local Marathi-speaking population, coupled with his enthusiasm to take up their cause, slowly transforms him into a sort of messiah of the masses.

He forms an organization called the Shiv Sena to fight for the rights of the locals. Soon enough, the Shiv Sena is transformed into a political party. With the passage of time, Thackeray becomes a powerful and feared personality of Maharashtra.

The film narrates the story of Thackeray's rise, but only till 1995, when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra for the first time. A sequel is announced at the end and his remaining journey will probably be seen in that chapter.

The content will surely be lapped up by supporters of Thackeray and his party. They have plenty to cheer throughout the film as the Great Leader is presented with a lot of style with an adrenaline-pumping background score. 

A lot of the credit for the portrayal must go to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He not only resembles Thackeray, albeit with the help of a few prosthetics, but also matches his personality, body language and voice. He does an excellent imitation of the late politician, particularly when he strikes Thackeray’s signature pose, standing with a hand on his hip.

Siddiqui gets adequate support from Amrita Rao, who makes her big comeback in Hindi cinema with this film. Nikhil Mahajan is believable in the role of Sharad Pawar, Thackeray’s long-term political opponent and yet a close friend. The rest of the artistes do not get much screen time.

While the film’s aim clearly is to prove that Thackeray was a misunderstood personality, its methods are hardly convincing.

The scene in which Thackeray is arraigned as an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case in a Lucknow court is the film's high point. The key incident, which is played several times throughout the film, is beyond filmi. In fact, in one instance, what Thackeray said in a television show called Aap Ki Adalat is presented as his testimony in a real court. The prosecuting lawyer is also made to appear like a silly caricature, whom it is easy for Thackeray to repeatedly silence.

For cinema lovers with only a passing interest in Maharashtra politics, the question uppermost is whether Thackeray works as a film. There is no doubt the film is entertaining from the word go. But the writing in the second half leaves a lot to be desired as a series of important incidents are skimmed over in a tearing hurry. For instance, the Shiv Sena’s transformation from a party of the Marathi-speaking people to a party of Hindutva takes place in a jiffy.

Thackeray’s fiery speeches at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park ground were highlights of his long political career. Irrespective of whether one was a supporter, the Dussehra speeches were keenly awaited in the locality, like an important cricket match, with intense speculation ranging about whom he would target each year. Unfortunately, this aspect gets hardly any focus.

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