Australia’s Bruce Beresford is all set to direct, Birth of a Nation, a film that will feature the dramatic elements that went with Indira Gandhi’s prime ministerial tenure during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. The movie will underline her pluck in defying the Richard Nixon administration and the Chinese leadership in order to help East Pakistan break away from West Pakistan and emerge as Bangladesh under Mujibur Rahman.
Though the film may loosely resemble a biopic, its producer, India-born America-based Krishna Shah, tells me over the phone from Mumbai that it is not one. “It is a war drama about the birth of a nation, similar in scale to the movie, Gandhi, as well as in the purview of Pearl Harbour. The material is in public domain.”
Since the script will rely on such material, the film will hopefully not raise controversies. The Congress Party is known to be quite finicky about granting permission to make biopics of anybody in the Nehru-Gandhi family, and it is well known that Jag Mundhra wanted to make a movie on Sonia Gandhi, the present Congress president, but his efforts went in vain. He died last year with an unfulfilled wish for a project that he once told me was dear to his heart, but approval for which was not easily forthcoming.
Shah says he spent six months travelling around the world, meeting helmers as varied as Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married) and Jodie Foster (The Beaver, Carnage), before he zeroed in on Beresford. His 1989 Driving Miss Daisy won the Oscar for Best Picture.
“He loved the script of Birth of Nation. Was fascinated by its story. Was impressed by Indira Gandhi. And he loves India. He is perfect for Birth of a Nation, like Richard Attenborough was for Gandhi”, Shah avers.
Beresford is well known in Australia – having directed works like Don's Party, The Getting of Wisdom, The Club and Breaker Morant. The last film garnered critical acclaim for him, and this pushed him to explore newer pastures. Hollywood it was, where his Tender Mercies earned him an Oscar nod for direction in 1982.
Black Robe, one of Beresford’s later works, is considered his best, though it did not catch the eye of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which decides the Oscars). His 2009 Mao’s Last Dancer, on the life of the ballet dancer, Li Cunxin, broke box-office records in Australia, and travelled to many festivals, including Toronto.
Birth of a Nation will be shot all over India and in Russia, the USA and the UK, and the movie’s casting will begin in May. American and British actors will be auditioned, but the most exciting aspect of this search will centre on the actress to play India’s Iron Lady.
(Incidentally, The Iron Lady was the title of a recent biopic on Margaret Thatcher, played on the screen by Meryl Streep, who won the Best Actress Oscar this year.)
Will it be Madhuri Dixit as the grapevine would have us believe? But Shah’s answer to that is an emphatic "no". It will be "essayed by either a newcomer or a Bollywood star, somebody who can capture the spirit and stature of Indira Gandhi", he adds.
Now who is that someone with the steely spirit of Mrs G?