Bollywood has been bitten by the biopic bug for the last few years. Mary Kom, Milkha Singh, Neerja Bhanot, MS Dhoni, Mahavir Singh Phogat (Dangal), Manmohan Singh, Bal Thackeray, Narendra Modi, Sunjay Dutt, Arunachalam Muruganandam (Padman) have all had films on them with varying degrees of success.

Now this trend seems to be heading to the southern film industries. Over the last two days, we have had details of two biopics emerging. One is a Malayalam film on 'Metro Man' E Sreedharan and another a Tamil movie on ace Lankan off-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan. 

The movie on Sreedharan is titled Ramasethu: A Bridge Between God and Society, and the role of Sreedharan will be played by the talented Malayalam actor Jayasurya. He is no stranger to playing real-life characters. He was cast as the famous Indian footballer VP Sathyan in a football movie named Captain. Jayasurya is also reportedly reprising Sathyan's role in a biopic that is being made separately. 

Sreedharan has helmed landmark infrastructure projects like metro lines, Konkan railway, Cochin shipyard. He has not watched a movie in over three decades, and has been shown the script and is said to have okayed it, according to the film's production house. Jayasurya himself met him and sought his blessings for the role.

In neighbouring Kollywood, the hot-shot actor Vijay Sethupathi has been pencilled to play the legendary Lankan spinner Muthiah Muralitharan, the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. Muralitharan has also been roped in as a consultant for the project so that the story doesn't slip into myth.

Sethupathi, a source in the production, said, will play Murali's character after his retirement from Test cricket. The actual phase while he plays cricket will be shot with a younger actor.

Tamil and Malayalam cinema are not exactly new to biopics. In Kerala, there have been films like Swathi Thirunal, Pazhassi Raja, Makaramanju, Celluloid. In Tamil Nadu, movies have been made on EV Ramasamy Naicker (Periyar), Bharathiar. But both the industries are new to biopics based on personalities, who are still alive and kicking.

"In Tamil Nadu, it is difficult to make biopics on contemporary personalities without them being hagiographies," said Manjula Muthu, a film historian. "A story on Muthiah Muralitharan could be the exception. One, he is from the sports field. Another, he is a Tamilian from Sri Lanka. So the story can be interesting as it is."

Another biopic in the making in Tamil (and also in Hindi and English) is Madhavan's Rocketery: The Nambi Effect. It is the famous story of Nambi Narayanan, the former ISRO scientist, who was falsely accused of espionage, and only recently acquitted. Madhavan himself is directing the movie.

Of course, a slew of biopics have been announced on J Jayalalithaa. They are sure to create some controversies one way or the other. In neighbouring Andhra, there was the movie on Y S Rajashekara Reddy titled Yatra. It turned out to be a good effort, even though parts of it were typically hagiographic.

A leading director in Tamil Nadu said biopics are hugely popular in Hollywood. In 2018 alone, 23 biopics were made in Hollywood, he said, adding, "The point is biopics are getting popular now because audiences are interested in real stories.” 

"We have had a preponderance of sporting biopics because the drama of sports can be easily translated on to the screen. The refreshing thing now is we have talented script writers who can interestingly bring alive characters from diverse backgrounds. Hence, we have movies on people like Muruganantham and Sreedharan," he said.