Flashback 2019: 'Diego Maradona's life is a Shakespearean story, filled with pride and pathos'

In this 2019 interview, British director Asif Kapadia recalled his interaction with the maverick footballer while filming 'Diego Maradona'.

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Asif Kapadia (L) recounts peeling off the many layers that maketh the man - Maradona.
ET Spotlight
Football legend and maverick genius Diego Armando Maradona passed away on November 25 after suffering a heart attack. One of the greatest players of all time, the former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager breathed his last at his Buenos Aires home. Maradona was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous 'Hand of God' goal against England in the quarter-finals.

British film-maker Asif Kapadia brought to life the journey of Maradona on the big screen in an eponymously-titled biopic. In a chat with the Economic Times Digital in October 2019, the 48-year-old spoke of his interaction with the world's greatest player and the flawed genius that he was.

Here is a recap:



Asif Kapadia is elated these days. ‘Diego Maradona’, the labour of his new love based on the life of the eponymous footballer, has borne fruit, and the British director of Indian descent couldn’t be happier.


He certainly has reason to be. It is not every day that you get to spend time with one of football’s all-time greats, also known to have a mercurial temper, and have him talk to you about the game, life and creating and breaking records.

And Kapadia counts himself among the lucky souls.

“I was lucky enough to have met Maradona five-six times in Dubai over the course of two years. Naturally, I have had both good and not-so-great experiences with him, including being made to wait and then have him call off the meeting,” the 47-year-old director recalls, settling down for a chat at PVR Home in Vasant Kunj.

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For those who have followed the Argentine’s life trajectory, this comes as no surprise as he was known to have a nasty temper, on-field, and away from it. But like most celebrities, scratch the surface, and beneath the veneer is a regular individual.

Maradona was no different, says Kapadia, as he recounts peeling off the many layers that maketh the man who, behind his cult-like status, was “very charming” once he found his comfort zone.

“After the first two times, when I went to his house, it was just him, me and the translator. And Diego, sitting on his sofa, was relaxed and easy, and spoke about things that he had never brought up with anyone else,” the director says.

​The 130-minute-long biopic 'Diego Maradona'​ has a mix of never-before-seen private, archival footage, and interviews conducted​ by Asif Kapadia.
The 130-minute-long biopic 'Diego Maradona' has a mix of never-before-seen private, archival footage, and interviews conducted by Asif Kapadia.

And it shows in the 130-minute-long biopic which has a mix of never-before-seen private, archival footage and interviews that Kapadia conducted. For fans, though, ‘Diego’ is a difficult watch, revisiting the rise and fall of the talented giant, trapped in his own world over the years, and almost invoking a sense of the famed Greek hubris.
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“Hubris, it is. Diego’s tale is very much like a Greek classic. His is a Shakespearean story, there’s pride, there’s pathos and there’s a perverted sense of justice,” he says.

But unlike a classical hero, Maradona never looks back (in anger). Neither does he show any weakness, regret or remorse in his interactions, says the man behind award-winning ‘Senna’ and ‘Amy’.
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“‘Diego’ is part-’Senna’, part-’Amy’, with a bit of Maradona thrown in. All three are about myth-building, the making of legends and about people who rise from almost nothing to become gods, and then subsequently crash,” he says.

And all three have had a complex relationship with fame. While he chronicled Senna and Amy Winehouse only after their deaths, Maradona was a living subject who, till date, remains an enigma to many.

Conspicuous by his no-show at Cannes where the film premiered earlier in May this year, the Argentine, was reportedly unhappy with film’s poster where the word ‘Hustler’- along with ‘Rebel, Hero, God’ - have been used as a tagline, describing him.

Asif Kapadia won the EE British Academy Film Awards for 'Amy' in the Best Documentary category on February 14, 2016.
Asif Kapadia won the EE British Academy Film Awards for 'Amy' in the Best Documentary category on February 14, 2016.

But Kapadia is not too perturbed, and says that all the four adjectives have been sourced from the film itself. He thanks the player’s official biographer, Daniel Arucci, who has spent 30 years travelling with Maradona, and called it “a tough film but at the same time very loving towards Maradona.”

“Arcucci himself appears in the film and he says, ‘In the guise of a rebel, the hero is a cheat as well.’ And we all know that he is a God for millions, and even Latin American journalists are pretty much in awe of him,” Kapadia says, smiling.

And while Argentina replaced the word cheat with “hustler” in order to preserve his cult-like status, the Middle East went ahead and dropped “God” from the poster, he adds.

“So everyone has their own version of Maradona that they want to hold on to. In my mind, he remains a rebel, an anti-establishment person, who, naturally, is considered a hero to many,” Kapadia says, in a moment of introspection, as we wrap.

A hero to many, a flawed genius to others. There truly is no single label that can be used to describe someone as complex like Diego Maradona.

More Politics, Please! Modi Biopic, 'Thackeray' & Other Films That Courted Controversy
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It's poll season in India.

The 2019 multi-phased Lok Sabha elections have kicked off across the country. And it seems that political fervour has found flavour on screen as well. Biopics and films on political intrigue have created quite a buzz on social media, and away from it as well.

This year, so far, has witnessed the announcement and release of three such movies on top political figures of the country across decades. While some of these have been deemed offensive, others have been touted as political propaganda. Hailed by fans, slammed by critics and trolls, these films nevertheless have been talked about.

Here's a look at films with political hues that have courted controversy:

It's poll season in India. The 2019 multi-phased Lok Sabha elections have kicked off across the country. And it seems that political fervour has found flavour on screen as well. Biopics and film..
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Directed by Omung Kumar, 'PM Narendra Modi' is a biopic based on the life of India's 14th Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The movie which is jointly produced by Suresh Oberoi, Sandip Ssingh and Anand Pandit, stars Vivek Oberoi in a pivotal role.

The film, earlier slated to release on April 5, landed in trouble when Congress spokesperson Aman Panwar wrote to the Election Commission seeking a ban on the film on grounds of violation of the model code of conduct of the elections. Earlier, his plea was rejected by two high courts which then pushed him to move to the EC.

The plea, which was heard by the Supreme Court on April 8, was not entertained on grounds of being 'premature'. The SC said so because the film had not been certified by Censor Board. Later, the film body gave a 'U' certificate to the movie. However, the EC then intervened and stalled the film's release till the LS polls concluded in May-end.

In response to this, the makers moved to SC and the apex court requested EC to watch the movie and take a call on its release. A decision on the same is now due on April 22.

Directed by Omung Kumar, 'PM Narendra Modi' is a biopic based on the life of India's 14th Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The movie which is jointly produced by Suresh Oberoi, Sandip Ssingh and Anand ..
Read More

Vivek Agnihotri's 'The Tashkent Files' was served a legal notice two days before its release on April 12. The movie is based on the mysterious death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The late PM's grandsons sent a notice to the makers seeking a stay on its release stating that the film tries to create unnecessary controversy and can hurt sentiments. However, the film released last Friday and received an average review from critics.

Vivek Agnihotri's 'The Tashkent Files' was served a legal notice two days before its release on April 12. The movie is based on the mysterious death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The ..
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Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's 'The Accidental Prime Minister' is a biopic on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The movie was inspired by a memoir of the same name by Sanjay Baru who was a media advisor to the former PM. The film featured Anupam Kher as Singh, Akshaye Khanna as Baru and released on January 11 this year. However, the film had to go through a rough patch before it made to the theatres.

On January 3, a lawyer filed a case against the movie in Bihar court saying that the movie tarnishes the reputation of a few top officials. The plea also said that the lead actors have damaged the image of the former PM, his advisor, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. Some critics said that the movie is pro-BJP and anti-Congress.

Later, a Delhi-based designer named Pooja Mahajan filed a plea through her counsel seeking a ban on the movie's trailer. Her plea said that the movie violated Section 416 of the Indian Penal Code. Mahajan's PIL said that the movie's makers may not have taken permission from Singh, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. The petition also said that a no-objection certificate needs to be procured from the CBFC for such films. However, no such certificate was obtained from the certification board. She requested the court to stall the movie's trailer on Google and YouTube and quash the certification provided.

Nevertheless, the movie went on the floors on January 11 and received mixed reviews from critics. While some hailed the movie as 'well-crafted', others felt that it was not engagingly dramatic.

Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's 'The Accidental Prime Minister' is a biopic on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The movie was inspired by a memoir of the same name by Sanjay Baru who was a media advisor ..
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Abhijit Pansey's directorial 'Thackeray' is a biopic on Shiv Sena founder, Bal Thackeray. The movie featured Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Amrita Rao in pivotal roles and released on January 25 this year, which marked the late leader's 93rd birthday.

However, before hitting the theatres, the movie faced a tough time with the CBFC. In December last year, CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi objected to three dialogues in the movie which was scripted by a senior Shiv Sena leader, Sanjay Raut. Two of these were related to Thackeray's statements on the Babri Masjid and South Indians. However, Raut refused to edit this part of the film.

The film's reception leaned towards the negative side, however, it was still hailed as a good presentation solely due to Siddiqui's fine portrayal of Thackeray.

Abhijit Pansey's directorial 'Thackeray' is a biopic on Shiv Sena founder, Bal Thackeray. The movie featured Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Amrita Rao in pivotal roles and released on January 25 this year, ..
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Madhur Bhandarkar's 'Indu Sarkar' is a 2017 period political thriller based on the 19-month emergency period under the then Prime Minster Indira Gandhi. The film starred Kirti Kulhari, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Anupam Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Supriya Vinod in pivotal roles.

It courted controversy from the day its trailer was released. The film was criticised by Congress supporters for showing Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi in bad light. However, the director defended the film by saying that it was not a biopic on the late PM.

Sanjay Gandhi's alleged daughter Priya Singh Paul then filed a plea in the Bombay High Court seeking a stay on the movie. However, her plea was quashed as she failed to establish her association to Gandhi. Two days before its release, Paul reached out to the SC seeking a stay on its release.

However, it was not entertained because the movie, according to the apex court, did not violate any law. The movie was given mixed reviews by critics.

Madhur Bhandarkar's 'Indu Sarkar' is a 2017 period political thriller based on the 19-month emergency period under the then Prime Minster Indira Gandhi. The film starred Kirti Kulhari, Tota Roy Chowd..
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