‘Thackeray’: What Are the Hits and Misses?

How’s the film Thackeray? After watching it, I have two answers. One is for Shiv Sena delegates and Mumbaikars, the other is for people living outside Mumbai. For the Shiv Sena, everything in the film is perfect.

The trailer of Thackeray had created a lot of interest and roused expectations, but after watching it, the Abijit Panse film feels more like a documentary which glosses over the controversial issues or entirely gives them a miss.

What remains beyond debate is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s powerful performance as Bal Thackeray. From his manner of speech to his sense of humour, Nawazuddin has truly lived Thackeray’s character.

The film begins with Bala Saheb’s dramatic entry in the court of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh which was hearing the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case. The picturisation of the entry is indeed masterful; the audience feels Bala Saheb himself has reached the court as the hearing is flagged off. The film then goes into flashback to the Bombay of 1960 when Thackeray worked as a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal.

Archival photograph from Raj Thackeray’s book on Bal Thackeray showing him sketching a cartoon for the Free Press Journal.

The oppression of the Marathi people at that time and how it worried Bal Keshav Thackeray to his launching the weekly Marmik to the transformation of Bal Keshav Thackeray to Bala Saheb Thackeray, has been depicted well in the film.

Calculated to win the audience’s applause are also many scenes like the founding of the Shiv Sena on 19 June 1966, or when Mumbai’s Marathi manus were willing to lay down their lives on one command from Thackeray. Bala Saheb’s personality had been bindaas even as he always remained in the headlines. The clashes with Morarji Desai, the first political murders after Independence (we are referring the assassination of Krishna Desai) or the accusations against Shiv Sena by Vasant Sena - all find place in the film.

The film turns the pages of political history and reminds one of significant political milestones in India as well - be it the meeting between Indira Gandhi and Bala Saheb after Emergency or his chat with Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad and even the Mumbai riots.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui portrays the late Bal Thackeray in biopic Thackeray.

But Thackeray leaves out a few significant events as well.

For instance, the strikes of mill workers in 1980 Mumbai that raised questions over Bala Saheb’s role in it. It’s significant because Bala Saheb had promised to support the workers, but withdrew it when the time came. There were allegations made of his understanding with the mill owners instead.

Likewise the film also skips the episode of Chhagan Bhujbal, who was a close associate of Bala Saheb’s for a long time till he rebelled against him. The film basically flutters around Bal Thackeray, so there’s little scope for music. The directorial rein was in the hands of a MNS leader, so there was little expectation of perfection. The director has given it more the feel of a documentary than a film.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the role of Balasaheb Thackeray.

The real aim of making the film seems to be to familiarise the 90s and post-90s audience, which has only heard stories about Bala Saheb, with the personality of Thackeray that Shiv Sena wants to project.

Apart from that, a film is a film, be it depict Sanjay Dutt in Sanju or Bala Saheb in Thackeray.

Also Read: Thackeray is All Propaganda, But it’s Hard to Ignore Nawazuddin

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