He’s been there done that. Wait! Let me re-phrase this. He has been there and is still doing what he does best – making cinema filled with artistic narrate. Yes, that’s the word which Shyam Benegal uses to describe his films – ‘artistic narrate’. They are, aren’t they? Ankur, Kalyug, Manthan, Sardari Begum, Zubeida, Welcome to Sajjanpur and his latest venture, Well Done Abba. His films aren’t to do with the latest technology, aren’t spectacular in visual effects, aren’t shot in foreign locales and aren’t the years most awaited releases. Surprisingly, Shyam Benegal’s cinema has an earthy fragrance. But more importantly, they have which many of today’s films lack – an honest and a truthful storytelling with an equally supportive execution. UK’s Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama‘s London correspondent caught up with this visionary filmmaker to know more about which films should go to the festival circuits and which shouldn’t, how has consumerism caught up in Bollywood, why he cast Minissha Lamba, why he thinks that Boman Irani can single handedly carry any film on his shoulder and why Well Done Abba is a film that fits into the ‘artistic narrate’.
For any film to reach the festivals, it has to have an artistic narrate
You’ve been taking many of your films to festivals around the globe. But which films should and should not be taken to festivals? Please throw some light.
There is no such thing. I’ll tell you. When you say that the film is festival worthy, it means that the film has a great deal of artistic narrate. Then there is a measured way of looking at it, like, this will work at the festivals but won’t work at the cinema halls. It further more suggests that its commercial value is zilch. All this don’t count. Certain kinds of films are not likely to draw large audiences because the entertainment quotient in the film is low. So when it doesn’t have that, it isn’t festival worthy. So for any film to reach the festivals, it has to have an artistic narrate.
How important is a story’s worth in the world which is surrounded with commercialism and short cuts?
That’s always been a struggle. We’ve moved into a kind of situation where we want our audiences to become consumers in the world of consumerism. There is a tendency which people follow, to make films that are attractive and yet simplistic. Therefore, it need not necessarily be credible. Credibility requires a greater amount of attempt at truthfulness. Similarly, you may not have the kind of artistic honesty that you require but your aesthetics tell you to be attractive at the market place.
You believe in casting right. So what are the qualities and the charm which defined Minissha Lamba for you?
I was looking for a young and an attractive girl who was in her sixteen or seventeen years of age and in her last year of school. Apart from being petite, I wanted the girl to be very spirited and feisty. She had to be bright too. Minissha fitted the image I had in mind perfectly. That’s what defines her charm and that’s how she is anyway.
The older he gets, the better he gets. Is Boman like a wine bottle?
He is, he is getting really good, isn’t he? But I’ve seen Boman’s work before he entered films when he was cast in Rahul D’Cunha’s many years ago. I wasn’t sure if Boman wanted to do cinema at that time and nobody knew how interested he was. Plus, the play was in English too. So I wasn’t sure he was ready for Hindi cinema. Then I saw him in a Ram Madhvani film titled ‘Let’s Talk’ and his performance was so outstanding and different from anything I’d seen before, foreign and domestic. In fact, I’ve used that film in my course as a visiting faculty in a university in Chicago. Boman is an actor who can carry an entire film on his shoulder, just like Shah Rukh Khan can. The difference is that Boman can do so by his acting ability and SRK can do so by his star quality.
You being an acclaimed filmmaker around the world, what sort of audiences do you wish you made films for?
I cannot predict my audiences but I feel that humanity of your film is more important. Feelings that are universal, which people all around the globe can feel, cutting across cultures…that is important. If you can get that, you’ve got your audiences.
And what about issues revolving your films?
There are certain issues that are either topical in certain places and may not have a universal application. Jag Mundra’s Provoked had an issue which wasn’t universally applicable. It was a good film but it had to do with certain kinds of issues like violence, wife abuse in Britain and the overseas Asian audiences. Well Done Abba has a universal feeling. It has a predicament of every man. It is not high minded but it certainly has a great sense of fellow feeling.
With new breed of talent coming into our cinemas through versatile filmmakers, who do you think are worthy enough to make a good career for themselves?
Yes, surely. I can name a few filmmakers who stand out for me. I admire Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bhardwaj, Abhishek Chaubey, Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Pandey, Shimit Amin and Sriram Raghavan to some extent. Though I’ve only seen Johnny Gaddaar of his. It was very different from the kind of films that are being made in India now. There is also R. Balki who is promising. Some have achieved a lot and some are on their way achieving.