Thackeray movie review: This is either an oblivious or blatantly self-aware film, a work not of propaganda as much as it is a work of pride, celebrating a legacy of violence. Rating: 1/5.
A polarising leader is a strong subject for a film, regardless of the line it takes. In the case of Thackeray — written and directed by MNS leader Abhijit Panse, produced by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, editor of the party’s periodical ‘Saamna’ — there was never doubt about its allegiance. I expected a film back-pedalling the extremism and justifying the late Balasaheb Thackeray’s actions. I expected scenes depicting the politician as a warm and misunderstood figure, and a film that essentially turns him into a hero. This is not that film.
Shockingly, Thackeray relishes the most controversial aspects of the Thackeray legend. This is a film where the leading man is shown as a proud bigot, indulges in hate-speech, likens himself to Adolf Hitler, and gives orders for erasure of mosques and for the killing of communists. His belief in preferential treatment for Maharashtrians in Maharashtra does not work as an excuse, not for all this villainy. This is not a whitewash, it’s a confession.
Watch the Thackeray trailer here
It is also a film made with polish — the high-contrast black and white cinematography by Sudeep Chatterjee is quite striking — that feels reminiscent of Ram Gopal Varma’s older, finer work. Charting the rise of a mere cartoonist to one of the most powerful political figures in the country, Thackeray even feels like a prequel to Varma’s film Sarkar, a hit that paid slavish tribute to the politician. Sarkar, however, had presented the leader as a man of nobility, while Thackeray presents him — exultantly — as a tyrant. See how much power he wields? See the way he threatens politicians, or reduces places of worship to rubble? See the way he gets a cricket pitch dug up? That’s our Tiger.
This may be why the film’s makers cast Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the main role, a man known for playing gangsters and psychopaths. Siddiqui visibly revels in Thackeray’s growing villainy, playing him with the irredeemable smugness of a bad guy from a 90s film. Sure, he wears the thick black glasses and sometimes gets the mannerisms right, but despite speaking from behind a big (obviously fake) nose, he never even tries to speak with Thackeray’s distinctive tones. He sounds like Nawaz as we have come to know, like Ganesh Gaitonde or Faizal or Raman Raghav, someone increasingly drunk on power and eager to kill whoever gets in the way.