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Spurt in biopics on sports stars - for love of sports or money?

New Delhi: Biopics on sports stars are among the flavours of the season in Bollywood. With the box-office success of "Mary Kom", more such movies are in the pipeline and experts admit such films are inspirational and find an easy connect with viewers. But they caution that a herd mentality won't guarantee success.

Mary Kom and Priyanka Chopra
Mary Kom (L) and Priyanka Chopra. Pic/ AFP

In the pipeline are movies on Dhyan Chand and Mahender Singh Dhoni.

If Karan Johar, known for his glamorous extravaganzas, has confirmed that he will back the film on hockey legend Dhyan Chand, Neeraj Pandey is wielding the megaphone for "MS Dhoni - The Untold Story", about the Indian cricket captain, with Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead role.

"No hidden secret behind it. They are making them because such movies are working on the box office," PVR Pictures COO Deepak Sharma told IANS.

"Biopics are inspirational. People from all walks of life feel associated with their personality. Families also don't mind taking their kids to such movies as they know they will be clean movies," he added.

Trade analyst Komal Nahta labels this herd mentality, but admits that well-narrated stories usually win the appreciation of viewers.

"There's this herd mentality in the industry. Everybody tends to run in the direction of successful movies," Nahta told IANS.

However, he insists the principle remains the same.

"Good films will work and bad won't. All these films did well because of good filmmaking. They were well enacted with the right amount of excitement and emotional connect and not just because they were biopics. It doesn't mean that any biopic on an actor or a sportsperson will work.

"Years ago, there was a film on an athlete Ashwini Nachappa titled 'Aswani', but it bombed miserably. So it's not the genre that decides the success, but the filmmaking," he added.

The latest biopic to hit the right chord with the audience was "Mary Kom", about five-time world boxing champ M.C. Mary Kom. Set designer Omung Kumar's decision to turn director with "Mary Kom" was worth a risk as it marked a successful beginning for him and also set the producers' cash registers ringing.

The film, with Bollywood's glamorous star Priyanka Chopra in the title role, raked in Rs.28.32 crore in its opening weekend and its success has strengthened filmmakers' faith in such movies.

Last year, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", which saw Farhan Akhtar reliving the life of former Olympian Milkha Singh - widely known as the Flying Sikh - not only took home a string of awards but also did a whopping business of over Rs.100 crore.

The film's director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra said: "It's a great sign that the audience's taste is changing and evolving. It's the country which is changing and that is reflecting in our movies today."

It's not only the big starrers which spun gold by immortalising an athlete's life.

Director Tigmanshu Dhulia's "Paan Singh Tomar" was a small budget film but it was raved about in the international film circuit. The Irrfan Khan starrer, about a soldier and legendary runner turned into a Chambal bandit, also became a box-office bonanza.

Bollywood has come a long way - from depicting glamorous and extravagant fairy tales to modest real-life stories where everything is not picture perfect.

Yes, masses still prefer masala movies, but real-life stories are also becoming popular.

The genre of sports-based movies were there previously, but rather sporadically. Who can forget Prakash Jha's gripping 1983 drama "Hip Hip Hurray" - with the teacher-student clash as its theme where football played the trucemaker - or Aamir Khan's Oscar nominated period drama "Lagaan", which revolved around cricket.

In 2005, "Iqbal", an inspirational film by Nagesh Kukunoor, about a cricket-obsessed dumb-mute boy's grit and determination, was lapped up by all and sundry.

However, many feel that 2007 release "Chak De! India", loosely based on hockey coach Mir Ranjan Negi, was the gamechanger. There were many high points in the film - director Shimit Amin brought the life of ostracised hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi on screen with ease, while Shah Rukh Khan ditched his romantic image to essay the coach's role with conviction.

According to the website of Yash Raj Films, "Chak De! India" collected Rs.125 crore ($35 million) worldwide.

PVR's Sharma said that when one talks about sports figures like Mary Kom, Milkha Singh and Dhoni there is a national pride attached to it.

"Audience can relate to the story like from zero to hero or someone with no resources making it so big," he added.

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