Larger-than-life characters from fiction as well as real life attract filmmakers. Devdas, a loser in love who exists in the pages of a Saratchandra Chatterjee novel, has been variously created by directors like Bimal Roy, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and many others. Hollywood has re-created everybody right from Abraham Lincoln to Mark Zuckerberg for the big screen The list, indeed, can go on and on.

Two announcements on the same person’s biopic have turned into headlines in recent times. Auteur Jahnu Barua, known for his films such as Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai, and Xagoroloi Bohu Door has announced that he will be making a film on the revered Ahom general Lachit Borpukhan since it is long overdue which is correct. So has Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, who, during a visit to Majuli, stated his intention of starring in a film on the valiant Borphukan.

Borphukan is attractive for Barua, who understands the historical importance of the subject. His is a story with a difference, Born in the early 17 century, the legendary general had thwarted the advancing Mughal army led by Ram Singh. Borphukan and his army’s heroics in the 1671 Battle of Saraigarh is the substance of legends, which Barua can interpret for the big screen with his customary genius

Can the same be said about Vivek Oberoi, whose career graph as an actor has registered a steep curve downward? Once spoken of as a reasonably promising actor, Oberoi has failed to consolidate his position over the years. Filmgoers would remember with amusement his performance as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in PM Narendra Modi, a badly made hagiographic film that made news for all the wrong reasons and couldn’t attract many viewers to the theatres either.

Making or acting in a film on Borphukan calls for a deep-rooted understanding of Assamese culture and history. Because of Bollywood’s emphasis on making biopics on subjects that are nationally known, he is, for the majority beyond Assam, a name worthy of attention and study that has stayed out of focus. This, Barua knows while setting out to make a movie on the revered general.

Somebody like Oberoi, on the other hand, will be far better off playing gangsters (as he has done in the past), comic characters (which he also has, in many bad comedies) or real-life characters he is familiar with, hopefully, in better-written biopics on familiar faces.

Attempting to play an army general from Ahom medieval history without sufficient cultural awareness isn’t something he can be trusted with. What the viewer can expect – and will be served – are screechy nationalist outbursts in a dramatised offering, not how a film on Borphukan ought to be made.

A film on the general should be about his life and times, the latter implying the need for having an accomplished director deeply aware of the history of the period in which Borphukan lived. That’s why the making of the film should be Barua’s prerogative with Oberoi, like many others, watching it when it is released.

Biswadeep Ghosh

Biswadeep Ghosh is an author and freelance journalist. He has been a part of the India media for three decades. Among his books is MSD: The Man The Leader, the bestselling biography of cricketer MS Dhoni....