Now where to begin...
Ah, some films that I love, some actors I can’t get enough of...
Ron Howard’s 2001 A Beautiful Mind, nominated for 22 awards, was the biopic of the legendary mathematician, John Nosh, played by two-time Oscar-nominee Russell Crowe. What it truly was: excessively fictionalised. What the film had: fictitious additions that changed a great deal of Nash’s incredible story of his revolutionary work on game theory. It starts with Nash working at MIT Wheeler Laboratory. That never happened. Why? That lab is non-existent. The real-life Nash was never employed by the Department of Defence. And although Nash was awarded a Nobel Prize, he didn’t give an acceptance speech. That is just some of the things that the globally acclaimed film got a tad incorrectly.
For A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
Tom Hanks’ FBI agent Carl Hanratty’s relentless chase of Leonardo DiCaprio’s real-life conman Frank Abagnale was the USP of the legendary Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Catch Me If You Can, nominated for 8 awards. In reality, that one Hanratty didn’t exist. Hanratty was the creation of the amalgam of the work of various agents. In an interview, Abagnale repudiated the validity of a scene in which he makes a phone call to Hanratty, desperate and lonely, “Why would I do that? I didn’t want the FBI to know where I was.”
In Ron Howard’s 2005 Cinderella Man, nominated for 8 awards, Russell Crowe as a Depression-era heavyweight champion boxer faces an excruciating period of material hardships and professional loss. What Cinderella Man inaccurately depicted was to turn a fierce and feared Max Baer, played by Craig Bierko, into a stereotype of a celluloid villain, to which his real-life son, Max Baer Jr. reacted: “The portrayal of my father in Cinderella Man couldn’t have been more wrong and inaccurate. They turned a good-hearted, fun-loving, friendly, and warm human being who hated boxing into Mr T from Rocky III with no redeeming characteristics.”
In the film, the boxer, shown to be gloating about his punches being the reason for early death of boxers, this was the real-life Baer’s response to boxer Frankie Campbell’s death, for whose widow and son he raised funds: “Nothing that ever happened to me–nothing that can happen to me–affected me like the death of Frankie Campbell.” Baer was said to have nightmares about Campbell’s death.
Ben Affleck’s directed 2012 Argo, nominated for 20 awards, is the story of the real-life US hostage-saving mission of 52 American diplomats and civilians, held hostage in the US embassy in Tehran, from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, for 444 days. The film, while taking other cinematic liberties to warp the real story, was criticised for that, by the former American president, Jimmy Carter, “...90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA.” In the words of Carter, the protagonist of the mission was Ken Taylor, portrayed by Victor Garber.
Argo won the Academy Award for the Best Motion Picture of the Year.
The 2012 Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis, nominated for four awards, a Denzel Washington starrer, is the heroic story based on the true event of an inebriated pilot, Whip Whitaker, who saves his passengers by flying the plane, yes, upside down. The only problem here: there was no Whip Whitaker in reality, and there was no plane full of passengers that was saved. The nosedive scene, loosely based on a 2000 Alaska Airline Flight 261 crash, is said to be, probably, the only accurate thing in the film. The plane, after a nosedive caused by a faulty screw, despite the very heroic efforts of its pilots, crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Not one passenger survived. And there is not one piece of evidence to suggest that either of the two pilots was intoxicated.
For Flight, Denzel Washington, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. This was his 8th Oscar nomination.
Paul Greengrass’ 2013 Captain Phillips, nominated for 21 awards, is based on the real-life Somali pirates’ hijacking of the 2009 Maersk Alabama, and the ship captain’s heroic efforts to save his crewmembers. The one issue about the film is the real-life statement of one of his crewmembers who repudiated the real-life Phillips’ heroism. That no crewmember wished to sail with him. That he sailed too close to the coast, overlooking safety procedures. It is also said that it was the ship’s chief engineer, Mike Perry, who was the real hero. Perry had a tiny part in Greengrass’ story.
The 2013 Dallas Buyers’ Club, directed by Jean-Marc Valle, nominated for 11 awards, said to be the true story of Ron Woodroof–played by Matthew McConaughey–a Texan who was an early 1980s AIDS victim. AIDS, a disease not much known then was not just a stigma but also a licence to die. What the film shows is more than that.
The real-life Woodroof was not a competitive rodeo rider like McConaughey’s Woodroof in the film. The real-life Woodroof was not misogynistic and homophobic as McConaughey was shown to be before his diagnosis. Addition of Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and Rayon (Jared Leto), as doctor and business partner of Woodroof–both didn’t exist–while deletion of Woodroof’s daughter and sister from the story–two people who mattered to him–are factors that makes Valle’s film a work of fiction not a true story.
For Dallas Buyers’ Club, Matthew McConaughey was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
Bradley Cooper starrer 2014 American Sniper, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, nominated for 8 awards, is based on the true story of a Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. What the film gets wrong in the story of the Seal with the “most confirmed kills in United States military history” is not just one thing. The real-life Mustafa, mentioned in merely one paragraph of the memoir of the real-life Kyle, is portrayed as a longstanding fearsome adversary. In the film, Kyle shoots at Mustafa from 2000 yards. In reality, he shoots an unknown adversary holding a rocket launcher. Depiction of the post-injury life of Kyle’s friend Ryan Job is also inaccurate.
For American Sniper, Bradley Cooper was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2015 The Revenant, nominated for 25 awards, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a real-life fisherman who survives many dangerous things, including living inside a dead bear. Many dangerous things did happen to the real Glass. What didn’t happen: his pursuit of justice for the killing of his son. You see, the real Glass didn’t have a son. The entire narrative of the reel Glass is based on his fight for vengeance for his son.
For The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. This was DiCaprio’s sixth nomination. He won.
The 2016 Sully, directed by Hollywood icon, Clint Eastwood, nominated for one award, is based on the real-life story of US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the eponymous protagonist of the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson”. Eastwood is said to have one question before taking on the project: “Where’s the antagonist?” In Sully, the investigative board of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) act like a bunch of belligerent prosecution lawyers. In the real-life story of a flight that landed in water, it all happened in just four minutes. For the 1.36-minute Eastwood movie, a villain, or rather, villains, had to be created. And viola! The decent folks of NTSB, non-existent in the real story, were brought to reel life as villains.
Moral of my hours of fact-collection on movies that were presented as true stories and biopics, my dear world: there is not a single docudrama that doesn’t take creative licence in some way. And that a film, even one that claims to be true, is primarily just what it says it is: a film.
And now where was I?
And what were you saying about Vikas Bahl’s 2019 Hrithik Roshan starrer, Super 30? That in Super 30 Hrithik darkened and bronzed his face to look like an “average” Indian? That Hrithik’s Bihari accent was often flaky, and occasionally jarring? That Hrithik’s Super 30 has superfluous embellishments? That his Super 30 has characters that don’t exist in the life of the real-life hero, Anand Kumar, educationist and mathematician? That Hrithik’s Super 30 has villains that the real-life Kumar didn’t fight? That Hrithik’s Super 30, deviating from real-life heroism of Anand Kumar, indulges in over-simplification to add cinematic flourishes to a story that didn’t need any?
It has happened before, it will happen again. Cinema takes liberties with the stories it shows. The only thing that matters: the effect it has on its audience, every viewer as an individual, all of them collectively. If Super 30 makes you think, helps you understand the pain of those who are mentally gifted and materially deprived, raises questions within you about societal divisions based on class, colour, caste and creed, invokes in you a desire to search for your real potential, elicits gratitude for that one mentor who changed your life in ways more than one, and teaches you the invaluable lesson that there is a superhero in each one of you, I think Vikas Bahl and Hrithik Roshan have managed to do what meaningful cinema intends to do: reach, move, effect, initiate, and change.
Super 30 is Hrithik’s best performance, to date. And it is a film into which he has poured his heart and mind and body. As a lifelong cinema buff, and an eternal believer in things with a heart, I give Super 30 10 out of 5 stars. I send the darkened and bronzed Hrithik love and hugs for his Anand Kumar with heart that shines brighter than the midday sun on a hot July day in Lahore.