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

So picture this. Bal Thackeray looking regal as he sits down in his meeting room smoking a cigar. A Muslim family comes to him for help saying they have lost everything in the riots. Thackeray considers thoughtfully.

He then asks the man why he is constantly checking his watch. Slightly nervous, the man hesitantly informs him it’s time for his namaz. Promptly Thackeray tells him to offer prayers in his house. When they look up surprised, Thackeray announces, “Mujhe aapke dharam se koi shikaayat nahi hai bas dharam ke naam per politics kerne waalon se hai”.

Next the camera pans to a statue of a tiger. Almost on cue there plays a loud roar in the background as if to underline Thackeray’s secular credentials!

It’s an unabashed, unapologetic defence of the Shiv Sena founder’s politics and worldview. One where not a tiny stain or blot has been allowed to exist. Sanjay Raut, the man who has penned the story and produced it, is a Shiv Sena member. The whitewashing is complete!

It’s best that we accept it. Because, in spite of it being a one-sided attempt at showing us an exalted version of a very controversial man, the film also boasts of a superlative performance by one of our country’s best actors.

Nawaz is exceptional as he completely blurs the line between the actor and the character by effortlessly slipping into the role of Thackeray.

The story traces his journey from being a rebel cartoonist working for Free Press Journal to his gradual transformation into a man who controlled Maharashtra with an iron grip. Playing his on-screen wife, Amrita Rao has a calming presence but a forgettable role.

Thackeray’s rabble-rousing, his open disregard for the Constitution, the blatant threat to law and order in the state, and projecting himself as India’s Hitler without qualms – all are accompanied by rousing and emphatic music. Director Abhijit Panse and writer-producer Sanjay Raut are clearly in awe of the man who proclaimed himself to be the saviour of the Marathi Manoos.

Nawaz is at his best in a propaganda film and that’s the ugly truth. A smartly made propaganda film which is also dangerous.

Let us take heart from the fact that someone Thackeray would have probably called an “outsider” or an “interfering Muslim” has brought him alive on the big screen like no one else could. Art definitely has trumped politics here. They even have found the perfect Indira Gandhi doppelganger (Avantika Akerkar)!

The halo around Balasaheb Thackeray remains intact as he is cleverly and conveniently shown distanced from all the violence associated with the Shiv Sena.

Thackeray is a no holds barred bhajan eulogising Balasaheb and a ploy to help Shiv Sena in the coming elections.

But it’s difficult to rubbish the film where we see the best that Nawaz has to offer as he masterfully imbues his character with a majestic charm, leaving his audience hypnotised.

3 Quints out of 5.

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