This week, the movie Tarla arrives on Zee5. Headlined by Huma Quereshi, the film is a biopic of one of the most famous chefs in India, Tarla Dalal. Irrespective of how it is, biopic or films of real-life personalities are a fascinating genre. 

Here we have collated a list of films based on real-life personalities. Some are official biopics, and others are based on their lives. Hindi movies dominate the list, but we have included ones from Malayalam and Telugu to broad-base our offering.


Mahanati (2018)

Talking of Savitri, the actress of talent and spunk in Telugu and Tamil, deserved a biopic, and Mahanati proved to be one. Savitri had a great career on screen but endured a troubling personal life. She suffered a lonely death as in her last days, she became extremely ill and lived in indigent circumstances, mostly because of her own making.

The Telugu film, directed by Nag Ashwin, is not a warts-and-all presentation. Instead chooses to focus on her early days struggle and how she made it as an actress. Keerthy Suresh, as Savitri, was top-rate and got the National Award. Dulquer Salman as Gemini Ganesan, husband of Savitri, was also adequate. 

Celluloid (2013)

This underrated Malayalam movie is about the legend of J C  Daniel and his dream to make the first ever Malayalam movie. Set in the 1920s, the film depicts the cinema obsession of Daniel even in those early years. The man sold his property to bankroll his dream, wrote letters to Dadasaheb Phalke, and eventually bought the camera and other paraphernalia to make a movie. He did make the movie Vigathakumaran, but as it happened, his troubles were only beginning.

The film had Rosie, a woman from the lower caste playing an upper-caste woman. This triggers a huge outrage, and Daniel’s life is hit very badly. Written and directed by Kamal, the film has Prithviraj, Sreenivasan, Mamta Mohandas and Chandni in the lead roles.

Paan Singh Tomar (2012)

From the Indian military to an athlete of international repute to a dacoit of notoriety, Paan Singh Tomar lived many lives. But none got him the headlines as much as this film directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia did. The director said he had a tough time researching for this biopic as original material on the eponymous character was hard to access.

Irrfan Khan, in the titular character, was special, and he landed himself a National award for the same. The film poses some fundamental questions: What could possibly drive a patriotic soldier to cross over to the dark side? And does society really care about athletes once their careers are over? No easy answers here.

M S Dhoni – The Untold Story (2016)

Directed by Neeraj Pandey and headlined by the late Sushant Singh Rajput, the film portrays the life of India’s most talismanic cricket captain, the 2011 World Cup-winning skipper, Dhoni. The film focuses on his growth as a school and college cricketer, his stint with the Railways before breaking into the national side, and his subsequent love and marriage to Sakshi. The film also featured Kiara Advani, essaying the role of Sakshi Singh Rawat, Anupam Kher as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s father, Bhumika Chawla as his sister, and Disha Patani as Dhoni’s late girlfriend. It is a feel-good biopic. 

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)

Milkha Singh was the greatest Indian male athlete until Neeraj Chopra arrived. His tale, set in the pre-partition Punjab, is worth telling, and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra told it well. With Farhan Akhtar portraying the role of the ‘Flying Sikh’ of India, the story chronicles his journey to be a world-beating sprinter and Olympian despite financial and societal challenges. The movie took some cinematic liberties, but in the high that the narrative creates, all can be forgotten and forgiven.

Mary Kom (2014)

This biopic on India’s charismatic women boxer Mary Kom stars an inspired Priyanka Chopra in the lead. The film is about the Indian boxer’s early career before she became an Olympic medallist. It celebrates the life and accomplishments of Manipur’s six-time world amateur boxing champion.

Mary Kom was directed by Omung Kumar, who made his directorial debut with this film, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali was the producer. Priyanka Chopra received the National award for best actress for her swashbuckling performance as a pugilist.

Shabaash Mithu (2022)

Mithali Raj is a certified legend of Indian women’s cricket. The former Test and ODI captain of the Indian women’s national cricket team led India to the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup finals. The movie’s narrative is typically on her struggles to make it big in what is decidedly a male sport in India. Directed by Srijit Mukherjee and headlined by an impressive Taapsee Pannu, the film also highlights the problems of women’s cricket administration in India.

Shershaah (2021)

As far as real-life stories go, this one was about Vikram Batra, the intrepid Indian soldier who was killed in action in the Kargil War. It is a salute to the valour, courage and bravery of Kargil war hero Captain Vikram Batra. Directed by Tamil director Vishnuvardhan in his Bollywood debut,  the film has Sidharth Malhotra starring in dual roles as Vikram Batra and his twin brother Vishal, with Kiara Advani as his girlfriend, Dimple Cheema. The love the actors struck at the sets culminated in them recently tying the knot in real life.

Balakumar Kuppuswamy
Balakumar Kuppuswamy

An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.

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