Constructing a Biopic Screenplay: Fictional Invention in the Biopic with Scant Evidence
As a creative practice research project, this thesis sets out to write a screenplay about Suresh Biswas (1861-1905), a little-known Bengali adventurer who was a wild-life trainer and circus-performer in Europe and later became a Captain in the Brazilian army. The early biographies of Biswas, based on limited and unreliable evidence, pose a challenge to the screenwriter in terms of narrative reconstruction of his life as a biopic. While more information has become available recently, this project examines the creative and critical issues associated with researching this figure, overcoming the problem of scant evidence and positioning him within a presentist context. Drawing on Rosenstone’s conceptual model for understanding how historical knowledge manifests in fictional narratives, it investigates the nature and function of fictional inventions in biopics and the ways in which screenplays make creative use of evidence. In writing Biswas’ biopic, I use the microhistorical research method, knowledge about biopic script-drafting processes, and Bhabha’s notion of ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ to present Biswas as a non-Western, non-elite 19th century cosmopolitan, thereby constructing a counter-narrative to the dominant discourse of cosmopolitanism as a matter of exclusive Western, elite privilege. I argue that it is through a judicious mix of fictional invention and a diligent study of evidence that a screenwriter can get closer to the historical subject. The thesis thus initiates in practice, moves to biopic history and criticism, reverts to practice with knowledge about research and writing that not only enables me to overcome my screenwriting problem but also leaves behind a set of insights for other screenwriters working with scant biographical evidence.