Hindi Features

From Manjhi To Neerja: Films That Drew Inspiration From Real Life Incidents

The world prayed and waited for the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex in Thailand to be rescued. Former Navy SEAL Saman Kunan died during the rescue operation that involved hundreds of people from across the globe. Even during the rescue, there was a buzz about how the fear and hope would work well as a feature film. After the successful rescue, the film announcements flew in thick and fast. It was said that six production companies had already stepped forward to bring the story to the big screen.


Michael Scott, famous for making films based on Christian faith under his Pure Flix banner, announced that he would soon make a film based on the Thai cave incident. The incident has also inspired Bollywood duo Abbas-Mustan – the directors have reportedly tied up with the producers of the 2016 Korean film, Tunnel, for its Hindi adaptation. Sources also reveal that the main cast has been signed on and that shooting will begin from December. Discovery Channel was first in line with a 40-minute documentary Operation Thai Cave Rescue.

For years now, filmmakers have adapted real-life stories of drama and courage onto the big screen. India’s film industries have been no exception. From the Aarushi-Hemant murder in Talvar to Neerja, which tracked the courage of airhostess Neerja Bhanot who died trying to save passengers on Pan Am Flight 73 that was hijacked, here’s a look at true stories which made for great viewing too.

Film: Manjhi — The Mountain Man

Year: 2015

Director and co-screenwriter Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi — The Mountain Man can easily be called one of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s best. The film narrates the true tale of a mountain man Manjhi, who toils for 22 years to carve a path through a mountain. Bihar’s Dashrath Manjhi (Nawazuddin) and his wife Phaguniya (Radhika Apte) live in a village that lacks basic amenities because a mountain lies midway between them and development.

Phaguniya dies after an accident, because they are not able to help her cross the mountain. Before her last breath, she tells Dashrath: “Hum pahad paar nahi kar paaye, bahut uncha hai (We could not cross the mountain).” Driven by grief, Manjhi decides to carve a path through the mountain, revolting against anyone who stands in his way.

Nawazuddin rarely steps out of Manjhi’s shoes in the film. From the subtle romance with his wife to the famous line – Pahad tode se bhi mushkil kaam hai ka? (Is it harder than breaking a mountain) that we hear in the trailer, Nawazuddin’s face mirrors his emotions; his eyes do the talking.

Film: Talvar

Year: 2015

The 2008 Aarushi Talwar murder case shook the country, and has always in the public eye ever since the incident took place. Director Meghna Gulzar retold the story with a stellar cast. One fine morning, Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma) opens the door for her maid and finds her daughter lying in a pool of blood, with her throat slit. The only person missing from the scene is the home’s domestic help Khempal. Her husband Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) immediately connects the dots and is certain that Khempal is the culprit. What follows is a series of investigations, showing different versions of the story, each coming up with a different culprit.

Irrfan Khan as Central Department of Investigation Joint Director Ashwin Kumar does justice to the role and almost lets us breathe a sigh of relief when the case is handed over to him. The plot is solid and well-executed. That said, even the movie does not reveal the ugly truth of who the culprit was.

Film: Neerja

Year: 2016

In Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, Sonam Kapoor a.k.a Neerja does not have an Indian flag waving in front of her house; neither does she reel off patriotic dialogues. Yet, devotion to duty and the nation shines forth in her actions.


Neerja is a biopic on the brave air hostess who saved passengers onboard US-bound Pan Am Flight 73, hijacked by terrorists during a stopover in Karachi in September 1986. Neerja (Sonam Kapoor) hails from a middle class family, and no one has a hint of how courageous she is, till this incident. “Mera bahadur baccha kaun?” (Who’s my brave child?)- this is one phrase which repeatedly rings in her mind when the plane gets hijacked. And, probably, her mother’s words drove her to save those lives, even if it meant embracing death herself. Rather than lionising the central character and over dramatising the film, Ram Madhvani sticks to the facts; making it all the more believable.


Film: Airlift

Year: 2016

Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift draws from true incidents that took place in 1990, when Indians were asked to evacuate from Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq. The realistic tone takes a dip during the unrealistic song sequences. The story is about Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) and his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), who are stranded after Iraq sets foot into Kuwait. At some point, Ranjit spearheads the Indian evacuation from Kuwait and transforms from a self-centered man to someone who deeply cares for others.

Film: Aligarh

Year: 2016

Aligarh retells the tale of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras who was thrown out of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 2010, after he was caught having sex with a rickshaw puller inside the college campus. Although professor Siras sued AMU in the Allahabad High Court, and also won the case, he was mysteriously found dead in his apartment.

The Hansal Mehta film, starring Manoj Bajpayee as Siraj, cooked up a storm even before its release as it was given an ‘A’ rating by the CBFC. Siraj is a lonely college professor who finds company in Lata Mangeshkar’s songs. His identity as a homosexual is outed when a local TV crew barges into his house and catches him with a rickshaw puller. Later, a journalist (Rajkummar Rao) sympathises with him and the professor wins his case in court.

The film questions the issues of human rights, equality, right to privacy and more. Manoj Bajpayee stole the show at the 62nd Filmfare Awards, winning the Critics Award for Best Actor.