Written by Manisha Lakhe on January 25, 2019
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a rockstar as Hindu Hriday Samrat!
The story of one of the most beloved and yet the most divisive political figures in Indian politics is surprisingly well made. Nawazuddin Siddiqui makes for a great Thackeray, but the script sticks to the major events of his political life, leaving you wishing the film had shown him more human than hero of the masses.
He started out as a political cartoonist, a satirist who wanted the world to change. Then he ended up doing something about it. Governments did not know how to deal with the power he wielded over ‘his people’, but the common man he helped swore by him, and called him ‘God’. How can you separate the man from the politics is a reviewer’s problem. A film like this to be watched when his ‘sena’ occupies the theater, wearing his colours is not easy. But I can say happily that the film is well made, and instead of being the mouthpiece of his political party, it does serve to help understand how and why Bal Thackeray became ‘Tiger’.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui does a bang up job of being the political leader whose philosophy is summed by the character himself when he says, ‘We will join our hands in a welcome to one and all, but if you trample our rights, these hands will break your legs.’
Bal Keshav Thackeray noticed everything. The people of Bombay ate Idli and sambar for breakfast, the Gujarati businessmen ruled the markets, the city ate the mutton the Muslims made, the bankers were outsiders too. The only thing the locals did was be loyal servants to all these people. He wanted the Marathi people (the original residents of Bombay) to have a say in things, own their businesses, live with pride. He started a weekly magazine expressing his radical views and his sarcastic cartoons. He raised a simple question: should the Marathi man be satisfied with less?
This is shown as a backstory of Thackeray standing and delivering his blistering defence in Lucknow High Court as to why he incited his men to demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The black and white treatment is wonderfully done. Establishes Thackeray as a thinking man, supported by his father and his wife. It also points out to the differences in the working conditions of the local people then. A very beautiful cinematic moment is captured when a worker writes a notice on a blackboard asking people to show up at a speech where Thackeray was going to ask the Marathi people to wake up. The worker props the blackboard against a pillar. The blackboard when horizontal has been sheltering a man sleeping behind. He wakes up because the sun now shines directly into his eyes. How Thackeray fought against the quintessential Marathi man and his ‘let it be’ philosophy is shown quite well.
It is but natural that if you follow your philosophy single-minded, then people will get hurt. Thackeray is shown to be just that. The film shows him say that he cares for nothing else but his people, and how his Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) could do or die for him. But it doesn’t show why and how he suddenly became the hero. I found myself agreeing with his logic on many things, but then should employers give jobs to local Marathi people because they are qualified or simply because Thackeray would burn the place down otherwise?
This is where you discover that you are drawn into his politics, and the film becomes personal. It’s a very clever trick and this is where the film works. You like the way they show events that include violence to make the perpetrator into a heroic figure. How his politics expanded from local to national is shown so easily that you sit back and are amazed. In one scene he threatens his political opponent with death, faces the same opponent (Barrister Rajni Patel) and even extends his hand to shake it. But when Rajni Patel refuses the courtesy and says that the Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi will meet Thackeray only for five minutes, Thackeray does not say anything but goes in to talk to the PM and manages to keep her involved in a conversation about his politics for over an hour. Rajni Patel’s machinations don’t work, and he is made to realise that he can never become Chief Minister of Maharashtra because he does not speak the local language, Marathi. This scene is perhaps the most manipulative scene but so well done, you actually nod your head in agreement. The actor who plays Mrs. Gandhi is uncannily like the former Prime Minister. Brava!
Amrita Rao and all the other characters who play the politicians do a good job in support of Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is rather amazing as Bal Thackeray. You want to know more about his brother who supported him, and other people who were close to him, but have to happy with just glimpses. The film is shot beautifully and yes, some bits of the rioting and killing are very Bollywoodish, but on the whole well done!
The riots between Hindus and Muslims and how Thackeray’s popularity with the police and the masses kept him strong is depicted in the film rather well. I had wished the film had been a little more personal. I wanted to know how he started sporting the Rudraksh (the Hindu rosary) , and what how his philosophy changed over the years. But the film sticks to his speeches and political events which can be accessed through the net today. Is it only a propaganda film for his political party? Perhaps. But it has cinematic sensibilities too.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)