- Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao, Rajesh Khera.
- Director: Abhijit Panse
- Release Date: 25/1/2019
Bal Keshav Thackeray (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a jilted cartoonist working for a press where there are only two Marathis. He gets fired for being a firebrand cartoonist who is not afraid to make a caricature of people who are in power. Once out of the press the first place he visits is a cinema where he watches a film that unfolds differently in his mind. He sees the pathetic state of the indigenous Marathi people in Bombay and is livid by it. However, he has very little power to do something about it. Coming back, he decides to start a weekly through which he thinks of emancipating the indigenous people by opening their eyes to what’s plaguing their lives.
The weekly becomes a reality after a lot of efforts from Balasahab as no one is willing to put their money in it. Once published, the weekly quickly gathers momentum and Balasahab Thackeray becomes a household name. People start looking up to him for solutions to their problems and it is only a matter of time before Thackeray realizes the need for starting a party that would allow him to connect with the people and address their needs. Thus Shiv Sena is born. A party that would over the course of the next few years not only change the way Maharashtra and Marathis lived their lives but would also make a dent in the national politics of the country.
Thackeray is written and directed by Abhijit Panse, a member of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (an Organization floated by Raj Thackeray, nephew of Balasahab Thackeray after splitting from Shiv Sena) himself and it is a PR vehicle for the late Shiv Sena supremo. Thus getting into what is politically correct and what is not about the film is a futile exercise. What can be done is to be objective about the film and judge it in terms of quality, storytelling, performances, entertainment, and technicalities.
It has to be agreed that Thackeray is a gripping affair. I looked at it as fiction and it still made enough impact on me to make me care for the characters. It is interesting to see the meteoric rise of the man from being a cartoonist to a leader at whose behest people happily laid down their lives. Thackeray gets into a duel with the then minister Morarji Desai, who he is adamant to ban from entering Maharashtra if he doesn’t pay hid to the protests of a section of people seeking to be a part of Maharashtra. In a poignant scene, Balasahab is slated to handover a referendum in person to Morarji Desai but in the last moment, Desai changes his plans and decides to make his way through the city without meeting Balasahab. What follows is mayhem that may not have been filmed on a grand scale but makes one hell of an impact. The portion where an Ambassador is shown wrenching its way through the body of a commoner sent shivers down my spines.
During the emergency of 1971, Shiv Sena is slated to be banned along with other parties that have not been exactly in support of Indira Gandhi. However, all that changes after Indira Gandhi meets Balasahab Thackeray. The buildup to this meeting and how it unfolds is wonderful to watch. The film intercuts between sequences to show us Thackeray’s testimony in Lucknow court and this testimony gives us some valuable insight into his psyche as a man. When asked why he ordered his men to demolish “Babri Masjid”, he willfully denies the very existence of the mosque and questions the advocate in return asking him if Rama was not born in Ayodhya then was he born in Pakistan. He is even shown ordering hits on his own men who went against his will and he is not afraid to call democracy as “faltu” (worthless). The director is quick to get an explanation of it from Thackeray’s own mouth as if to justify his harsh words.
This is one of the defining factors of this film. It shows Thackeray do something terrible and then makes it a point to have him justify it. After all, it’s his biopic and he cannot be wrong. There are scenes where we see Thackeray order hit on men but before that, those very men are diminished to being near antagonists and we are left with no choice but to cheer for Thackeray as he shows the men their rightful places. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the right choice for the character. The fact that he resembles the man up to some extent and has that “dadagiri” swagger about his persona only makes him that much more perfect for the role. I would have liked for the director to do away with the fake nose as it added nothing more than a distraction to the character and pops out in more than one instance. Apart from that, Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets the feel of the character spot on.
Some of my favorite sequences of him essaying the man are the court proceedings, the initial portion where we see how the man came to be, some tender moments that he shares with his wife played by Amrita Rao and also the raging speeches and intuitive actions. Nawaz not only brings reverence to the character but also strikes that wonderful balance between being white and also grey at certain junctures. Unfortunately, no other character in the film has anything substantial to do and that is not much of a surprise. However, it would have helped for the film to have atleast a few more characters to have some prominence. It wouldn’t have belittled Nawazuddin but instead given him some much-needed foil to play against.
Thackeray is filmed in two color palettes. While the courtroom sequences are filmed in sepia tones, the flashbacks are filmed in black and white. The cinematography of the film is easily one of its highlights. I just loved the way the camera of Sudeep Chatterjee gives reverence to the man and his aura in every shot and some uncanny frames will remain forever etched in our memories. The background score of the film complements its content. To many, the roar of the tiger underlining every punch line that Thackeray speaks might feel too much of a drag but for people who this film is aimed at, it will incite unimaginable cheers. Even I got the spirit of it all and enjoyed the signature tune associated with Thackeray.
Thackeray is entertaining, engrossing and effective. If one chooses to keep the politics and the real man out of it and watches this film as a standalone fictional biopic, it has enough to entertain and enthrall. However, I know for sure that it will never be the case. People will definitely bring in the exploits of the actual man and that will divide the audiences among the ones who would love this film and the ones who would hate it.
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)