BOLLYWOOD BIZ : The Sport Biopic: A Remarkable Journey

A few years ago, Biographical movies were considered commercially unfeasible in Bollywood. Today, the genre has evolved to a cinematic powerhouse, churning out blockbuster after blockbuster. Biopics have now become so bankable, they have spurned their own sub-genre – the sports biopic. Sports biopics are the most popular and commercially lucrative iteration of biopics However, it wasn’t always this way. This issue, Corporate Citizen traces the remarkable journey of the sports biopic from its frugal beginnings to its current mainstream success.

Releasing December 2016

You know a movie is going to be a blockbuster in advance, when it stars Aamir Khan, whose last film PK is the highest grossing film in Indian history (`600 crore worldwide gross) and which is based on wrestling ,a topic on which the similarly themed Sultan is already setting the box office on fire). Dangal is based on the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, who taught wresting to his daughters, who went on to win Gold and Silver medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The film is produced by Walt Disney studios, who are geniuses at marketing, so it is safe to assume that Dangal is well on its way to becoming the biggest sports biopic in Indian history.

Box Office Rs.39 crore
Paan Singh Tomar

Paan Singh Tomar could truly be called the first commercial sports biopic in India.Originally conceived as an experimental film, It was released in 2010 at London film festival, where it received overwhelming critical acclaim. At that time, it was considered to risky to release the film in India, as distributors weren’t convinced that a sports biopic would ever work. It was much later, in 2012, that the Irfaan Khan starrer received a limited release (That too, due to the rise in Irfaan Khan’s popularity rather than the film’s perceived bank ability). The film went on to become a critical darling and grossed many times it’s production value in its theatrical run. In a lot of ways, the sports biopic genre in India owes a lot to the Paan Singh Tomar’s success, as this was the moment filmmakers realised that sport’s biopics could also make money.

Box Office Rs.164 crore
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

When Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was conceived, the Biopic genre was yet to gather steam in India. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra approached multiple leading actors like Akshay Kumar like Abhishek Bacchan, but they all turned him down. Finally, when he decided to cast multi talented actor, director, producer and singer, Farhan Akhtar as, Milkha Singh, little did he know that he was creating history. Farhan Akhtar gave it all to step into the big boots of the ‘Flying Sikh’ and his efforts were very much evident every time he appeared on screen. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag swept most of the popular awards of 2013, and became a box office blockbuster, signaling that the sports biopic had finally arrived in India.

While the success of bhaag Milkha Bhaag signaled the arival of the sports biopic in India, it was the spectacular success of Mary that cemented the future of the genre

Box Office Rs.104 crore
Mary Kom

By the time Mary Kom rolled into theatres in 2014, sports Biopics were just becoming mainstream, but women based sports biopics were still untested. However, Priyanka Chopra as a leading star and a compelling story propelled this heartwarming movie to a phenomenal opening, and a strong word of mouth ensured that Mary Kom would become a certified hit. While the success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag signaled the arrival of the sports biopic in India, it was the spectacular success of Mary Kom (made on half the budget of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) that cemented the future of the genre.

By Neeraj Varty