Biopics – based on the life of celebrities and real life events are made with seriousness. Obviously those movies meet with critical and commercial success most of the times. National film award is the highest recognition for movies in India, and the most deserving films and artists only receive this award. If biopics based on real life stars receive National film awards in best actor/actress category, then it’s implied that the artist has made that person immortal on silver screen. Through this column I would like to discuss a few among those outstanding performances in Bollywood films which helped the actor to win National award.
Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture (2011) – It’s one of the most celebrated biopics in the recent times, and was a major hit at box office as well. The movie established Vidya as ‘Female Superstar’ of Bollywood and also earned her the nickname, Lady Khan. The movie helped Vidya to bag all ‘Best Actress Award’ at various award functions and National award for best actress also. The movie is a biopic of south Indian actress Silk Smitha, known for erotic roles and the movie was directed by Milan Luthria. Vidya did a lot of back end work for the movie, and through her acting skills and body language, she brought back Smitha once again to silver screen.
It was for the first time National award was received by an actress for portraying a real-time film actress, and only the single actress from Bollywood. In 2019 Keerthy Suresh received the same for a Tamil/Telugu bilingual, Mahanadi, where she essayed top south Indian actress Savithri on screen. As far as I know no other male actor has won the same for portraying a real-life film actor, though there have been biopics on famous political/social leaders and others, receiving honours at various award functions.
Ajay Devgan for The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) – 2002 witnessed so many biopics made on the iconic revolutionary associated with Indian freedom struggle – Bhagat Singh. Playing the titular role of Bhagat Singh, Ajay earned his second National award for best actor through this film. The movie was directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. He was the first Bollywood male actor to receive this honour in his category for a biopic.
Irrfan Khan for Paan Tomar Singh (2012) – Irrfan truly deserved the National award for the movie which told the story of a rebel who was a former athlete, Paan Tomar Singh. This biographic film was directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Seema Biswas for Bandit Queen (1995) – This controversial movie of Shekhar Kapoor showed the real life of bandit turned politician, Phoolan Devi. Apart from winning three National awards and several popular awards, the movie was also shown at various film festivals.
Rajkumar Rao for Shahid (2013) – Rajkumar Rao played the title role of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer and human rights activist for the movie Shahid. He shared National Film award for best actor with Malayalam actor Suraj Venjaramoodu for the year 2013. Rao also won Filmfare Best Actor (Critics) for the movie.
Smita Patel for Bhumika (1977) – This Shyam Benegal film was based on the Marathi-language memoirs, Sangtye Aika. Smita essayed the real life character of Bengali actress Hansa Wadkar for the movie.
Shabana Azmi for Godmother (1999) – This biographical drama film directed by Vinay Shukla was inspired by the life of Santokben Jadeja, an underworld don. The movie gave Shabana her 5th National award for best actress, a record still to be broken.
Amitabh Bachchan for Black (2005) – Though not a biopic film, the film was inspired from the real life and struggles of Helen Keller, and Big B portrayed the role of Rani Mukerji’s teacher in the film which won him National Film award. So I would like to add this film also to the list. The movie bagged several National and Filmfare awards, and Amitabh Bachchan along with Rani Mukherji earned both Popular and Critics’ awards at Filmfare.
Shabana Azmi for Arth (1982) – I would also like to add this semi-biographical film of Mahesh Bhatt to this list. The film was loosely based on director’s extra marital affairs with popular Bollywood actress Parveen Bhabi. The film truly belongs to Shabana Azmi, and it’s one of the powerful female characters ever shown on Bollywood screen. Thus Shabana won National award for two biopics. Yet it was Smita Patel’s eccentric character modeled on Parveen Babi.
Akshay Kumar for Rustom (2016) – Amidst a bit controversies, the latest awardee to be included to the list is Akshay Kumar for Rustom. Akshay portrayed the real-life character of an Indian Naval Officer Rustom Pavri and the courtroom drama was criticized for tampering real facts. Despite getting mixed reviews, the movie was loved by audience for its humour quotient, and was commercially very successful too.