Maharashtra is one of the most significant states of India due to its rich history and culture and also because it houses Mumbai, the country’s financial capital. And post-independence, some prominent leaders left a mark on Indian politics and the most supreme out of them was Balasaheb Thackeray. The man amassed millions of followers who continue to worship and swear by him. A biopic on him thus is quite ideal as it can make for a great watch. Moreover, some of his acts and beliefs were quite controversial and had evoked polarized views. THACKERAY, the biopic, promises to tell his tale and also touch upon these sensitive topics. So does THACKERAY prove to be a hard-hitting entertainer? Or does it fail to make a mark? Let’s analyse.
THACKERAY is the story of the Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. Bal Keshav Thackeray (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is the eldest son of social reformer Prabodhankar Thackeray and is married to Meenatai (Amrita Rao). The story begins in late 50s when Bal is working in Free Press Journal as a cartoonist in Mumbai. He feels stifled with the restrictions put on him by superiors over attacking certain political figures. Hence, Bal resigns and starts his own political weekly called Marmik. Bal realizes that the South Indians have dominated businesses and offices in Mumbai and look down upon Maharashtrians. Through his cartoons and later his speeches, he begins to inform the sons of soil that they should fight for their rights and not let ‘outsiders’ to take over the reins of Mumbai. His speeches begin to motivate Maharashtrians and they commence the fight for their rights. As his stature and popularity grows and as he begins to be addressed as Balasaheb, he floats his own political party called Shiv Sena, in 1966. The party suffers a lot of ups and downs but slowly makes its mark. In the 80s however, Balasaheb shifts his agenda and becomes pro-Hindutva. The Shiv Sainiks also have a part to play in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, which leads to riots and widespread wave of shock across the country. How Balasaheb tides over this crisis fearlessly and also overcomes other challenges forms the rest of the film.
Sanjay Raut's story is interesting and a winner since a film on such a strong political figure itself is a great idea. He has focused on the most notable and even lesser known episodes of Balasaheb’s life (his meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stands out, in this regard). Also, most of these aspects are controversial and these factors surely appeal to the viewers. Abhijit Panse's screenplay is engaging and more importantly, massy. The film has been written in such a way that it can reach out to as many people as possible. Arvind Jagtap and Manoj Yadav's dialogues however are acidic and sharp. Balasaheb never minced words in his speeches and interactions and the dialogue writers do justice in this regard.
Abhijit Panse's direction is very good and his narrative keeps the viewers hooked on to their seats from start to finish. A few scenes are exceptional and would be greeted with claps and whistles. Also, in a rare instance, the first half of the film is almost entirely in black-and-white. This gives a nice touch to the film and the transformation from black-to-white to colour is quite creative. The film is 2.19 hours long but it doesn’t feel so as there’s so much happening in the story. However, one wishes the significant people in Balasaheb’s life were also given a little more screen time. This would have helped viewers to know more about them and their equation with the leader himself. Panse also jumps narrative and this could have been reduced. For instance, Balasaheb gets jailed after the Morarji Desai incident but no attempt is made to explain when he was released. The climax of the film leaves you wanting for more, considering the mood and theme of the film, but it seems like the makers are already planning a sequel for the latter half of Thackeray's life.
THACKERAY starts with a bang. The entry of Balasaheb in the Lucknow court is clapworthy and would be loved by audiences. The beginning portions are very engaging and the way the makers depict the sad state of Marathi-speaking people through animation is very novel. It is amusing but at the same time, it makes an impact. Also impressive is how Balasaheb resigns from Free Press Journal in his own unique style. The first half has several scenes that stand out like Balasaheb helping a helpless landlord (Bachan Pachehra) in getting back his property, the violence that erupts when Morarji Desai (Rajesh Khera) lands in the city and the track of Krishna Desai (Sanjay Narvekar). Post-interval, the entertainment continues. However, some scenes are excellent like Balasaheb forcing the film Tere Mere Sapne to be replaced by popular actor Dada Kondke’s Marathi film Songadya, Balasaheb’s meeting with the then PM Indira Gandhi, Balasaheb insisting on a Muslim old man to perform namaaz in his house and Balasaheb’s meeting with Dilip Vengsarkar and Javed Miandad. The film also goes back and forth with the courtroom sequences and these are also quite impactful. The film ends with an impactful monologue with the announcement of the sequel in the finale being the icing on the cake.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui rocks the show and delivers a stupendous performance. He goes totally into the skin of the character and tries his best to not just mimic Balasaheb’s mannerisms and body language but also live and breathe him. This talented performer has given several fine performances in his life and this surely would rank as one of his most accomplished acts. Amrita Rao is lovable in her supporting role. Rajesh Khera is quite good and leaves a huge mark. Sanjay Narvekar is okay. Prakash Belawadi (George Fernandes) is nice in the lone scene. Same goes for Nikhil Mahajan (Sharad Pawar). The other actors who give fine performances are the ones playing Indira Gandhi, Prabodhankar Thackeray, Emmanuel Modak, the prosecutor in the court, Dilip Vengsarkar and Javed Miandad.
Rohan-Rohan's music doesn’t get scope. 'Saheb Tu Sarkar Tu' is the only song in the film and is played in the end credits. Amar Mohile's background score is quite exhilarating and adds to the excitement. Sudeep Chatterjee's cinematography is topnotch. P K Swain's action is realistic. Sandeep Sharad Ravade's production design is authentic and ensures the bygone era is realistically depicted. Same goes for Santosh Gavde's costumes. Kiran Kamble's make up and hair and Pritisheell Singh's prosthetics are praiseworthy. Ashish Mhatare and Apurva Motiwale Sahai's editing is fine and it’s great to see how various episodes of his life are neatly stitched and how it all flows well. But in a few scenes, it could have been better and not so razor shop, especially in the second half.
On the whole, THACKERAY is a well-made and well-told biopic about one of the most important political figures of Maharashtra and India. The target audience and the centres in Maharashtra would surely accept this film with open arms. However, the film also has a pan-India appeal and this can surely go in its favour.