Soorarai Pottru, The Motorcycle Diaries, and the truth-versus-fiction issue in biopics

Posted on November 21, 2020

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https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/soorarai-pottru-the-motorcycle-diaries-and-a-response-to-the-truth-versus-fiction-issue-in-biopics-9034831.html

If you want the “truth” about Captain Gopinath or Che Guevara, go read books about them, or go watch documentaries.

Soorarai Pottru — the “loosely inspired by” biopic of Air Deccan founder Captain GR Gopinath  — is the season’s hottest, most talked-about film, so let’s talk about a biopic about another socialist hero from another part of the world. (For those who haven’t seen Sudha Kongara’s movie, one of its key changes is the transformation of a capitalist entrepreneur into a socialist do-gooder.) Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries opens with a sort-of disclaimer: “This isn’t a tale of heroic feats. It’s about two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams.” The note is signed: “Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, 1952.” You may know the man as Che.

But first, let’s discuss the inherent problem with biopics. Half that word (“bio”) suggests something “biographical”, i.e., “true to life”. That’s a very heavy burden to place on a movie, where dramatic beats are infinitely more important than “truth”. I would rather have a fictionalised film that works than a “true” film that doesn’t. If you want the “truth” about Captain Gopinath or Che Guevara, go read books about them, or go watch documentaries. No film, even one that calls itself a “bio”pic, is going to give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

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