On Thursday evening, at a five-star hotel in Mumbai, actor Amitabh Bachchan and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray came together to announce a film on the late Bal Thackeray, aptly titled Thackeray. Ever since the announcement, social media has gone abuzz—discussing why would Nawazuddin, an actor from Uttar Pradesh, lent his name to a film on a Marathi political bigwig who was rabidly opposed to people from Bihar and UP. The producer and scriptwriter Sanjay Raut is a Shiv Sena MP, while the director Abhijit Panse was formerly a member of the Shiv Sena.
Panse has earlier directed the Marathi film, Rege, and has also worked on a Indo-French production that is set to do the festival rounds from February 2018. We talk to Panse, who likes to keep the conversation short. Excerpts:
When did the idea of making this movie come up?
There have been many efforts to make a film on Balasaheb Thackeray over the last 10 years. But he is a versatile man, difficult to essay. However, Sanjay Raut, the editor of Saamana for the last four decades, and also an MP from Shiv Sena, felt that it is time that the movie is made. He wanted a director who knew Balasaheb closely—I fit the criteria. It was almost one year-and-a-half ago that we started working on the film.
Amitabh Bachchan at the teaser launch said that Bal Thackeray's life deserves a series. One film may be too short to capture his entire life. Are you focusing on any particular period of his life?
You will have to wait for that. We are yet to complete the entire script. We'll talk about it in time.
How did Nawazuddin Siddiqui come on board?
Nawaz is one of the finest actors that we have. He bears a striking resemblance to Balasaheb. I think he will do a great job portraying him. Nawaz was also our first choice for the role. He agreed immediately too.
But didn't you think a Marathi actor would do a better job?
The leader Balasaheb is not restricted by any state. He is the mahaneta of the nation. He has fan followings across the world. We never thought that we have to do the film only in Marathi. Nawaz came to our mind because he is a fine actor. We didn't even think of any Marathi actor because nobody could have fit into the role as well as Nawaz.
Incidentally, Nawaz is already doing a biographical film on Saadat Haasan Manto.
Yes, but the two lives are very different. There can be no comparisons between the two film—Balasaheb is a larger-than-life figure. I don't think there can be any similarity between the two lives.
Who are the other actors?
Let me cast them and we will talk about it later. We will finalise it by March.
The announcement of the film has led to a lot of talks on how the film will end up as a hagiography, with the involvement of people only from the Shiv Sena?
I am not a part of Shiv Sena. I am a leader of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. And the film is far beyond politics, so it shouldn't concern anybody whether we are Shiv Sainiks or not. Even Nawaz is not from Shiv Sena or any other party.
So, will you be showing the grey areas of Bal Thackeray's life?
This is a realistic political biopic of Balasaheb. And we are not going to change anything. It's going to be a non-fiction.