After films like Welcome To Sajjanpur (2008) and Well Done Abba (2010), veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal seems to have taken a break from movies. Currently working on his 10-part TV series, Samvidhaan, he talks about the change and growth in the film industry.
Why did you stay away from filmmaking for nearly three years?
I was working on two subjects and was also in the Parliament. Then I was working on my TV show, Samvidhaan. It took up a lot of time, and I didn’t want to divert my attention with a film. I am not comfortable juggling projects. I have wanted to make this show for a long time since it is an important aspect of our (country’s) history.
The film industry is undergoing rapid change. Do you see that as a good thing?
The film scenario is changing and in a good way. There is a wide variety of films now. I am comfortable with the change and happy that a lot of new, young filmmakers with interesting ideas, which were not being entertained at all in the past, are getting their films made. I recently saw The Lunchbox, which is especially good.
Today the film scene is a vibrant one, which wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Even if you look at the popular side, films by Ranbir Kapoor are very good because he is so convincing as an actor. Things have improved enormously.
What do you think about the Rs 100 crore phenomenon?
Well, that has nothing to do with good or bad films. It’s all about how much money a film makes. You may have ambitions of making R100 crore, but that’s only a commercial ambition, not an artistic one.
Do you subscribe to this yardstick to determine a film’s success?
I am not interested in that. It’s just one way of looking at things. Frankly, I am not capable of making a Rs 100 crore film.
How difficult was it to cast actors for the legendary personalities in Samvidhaan?
We have a hugely talented bunch of actors in our country, so casting is not always difficult. Many of them have acted in my films before, so I would say it was rather easy. I knew straight away that Sachin Khedekar was apt for the role of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. And that Dilip (Tahil) would be able to modulate the voice and get the right accent needed for the role of Jawaharlal Nehru. But I haven’t found the right actor for Jinnah yet. I have auditioned newcomers and established actors, but I haven’t found the right fit for that remarkable man. Gandhiji will be played by the wonderful Neeraj Kabi from Ship of Theseus. The moment I saw the film, I said I’ve found my Gandhi. He is a bit muscular, so I told him ‘we will starve you for a while’. (laughs)
Why do you always focus on social issues through your films?
Making a film on social issues is always interesting. Any functional country will have a lot of turbulence. Turbulence is good as long as it is contained and used well – creatively and positively. That’s why democracy is a good system, particularly for our country.