'Thackeray' review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui shines in a story that overlooks the late leader's controversial past

Written By: Shomini Sen WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jan 30, 2020, 02:23 PM(IST)

Thackeray (2019) Photograph:( WION Web Team )

Story highlights

The major problem with the film remains in the way the story is narrated.

It’s tricky to make a film on a person like the Bal Thackeray. One of the most controversial, hardline leaders that Indian politics has ever seen in the post-independence era, opinions on the leader has always been extreme. There is a section which feels his autocratic, extremist beliefs were extremely harmful to the country and then the other group- whom Thackeray may have helped treat him like a messiah.

His apathy towards the Muslim community and especially for our neighbours has been a known fact. A philosophy that Shiv Sena ( a party that he started) and MNS still believe in. So casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a film based on his life naturally raised a lot of eyebrows. Directed by MNS leader Abhijit Panse, produced by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut,the film 'Thackeray' glorifies the late leader (naturally so) and predictably whitewashes his controversial past.

Right from the beginning, the makers make no qualms in admitting their love and admiration for Thackeray, thereby making the narrative very biased. A biopic on a prominent leader should ideally have a balanced approach- show both sides of the person its made on. But not only does ‘Thackeray’ reiterate the leader’s radical ideas but also doesn’t bother to offer too much explanation on why he was such an extremist.

The film begins with Thackeray being produced in court on charges of demolishing the Babri Masjid and then goes back in flashback to tell the viewers about the man and his early beginnings as an extremist leader. In striking black and white, the director who is also the writer of the film, touches upon all the key events that made Thackeray a fascist leader. In fact, at one point Nawazuddin even compares himself to Hitler proudly while addressing a rally. Panse clearly is quite unabashed about the image that Thackeray had.

It is also a tad strange to watch a Nawazuddin, a Muslim, give justification on demolishing of a Masjid. I know an actor ideally is beyond religion and that's why perhaps Nawazuddin chose to work in a film like this but glorifying bigotry through a medium as powerful as cinema is something else.  

Nawazuddin, despite a very obvious fake nose, delivers a convincing performance. He gets the mannerism of the late leader quite accurately and delivers some of the most scandalous lines with absolute ease. There is possibly no role that the actor cannot portray. From a beggar in Talash to a hardline leader in this film, Nawazuddin time and again manages to impress the viewers with his convincing and confident act.

Shot by the talented Sudeep Chatterjee, the great part of the film is narrated in flashback in black and white. Chatterjee’s frames are slick and add to the production value of the film. Colour is brought back to the frames with the change in the colour of a flower in one scene- indicating the changing times in the country post-Congress’ defeat in general elections and emergence of Janta Dal after emergency.

The major problem with the film remains in the way the story is narrated. They make no qualms in admitting that Thackeray resorted to violence to control things. The makers seem too nonchalant about his way of giving justice to people and his controversial past is taken too lightly- glorifying his obsession to give preferential treatment to Marathis, his way of snubbing political rivals and having control over the police force- all are almost forgiven in the film.

‘Thackeray’ is yet another film that can be added to the long list of nation-building films that Bollywood has been churning out lately. The film’s tactical release during the Republic Day weekend will surely ensure packed theatres, but will it be able to convince the viewers about Thackeray’s radical ideologies is something that we’ll have to wait and watch.

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