Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba was premiered in the World Greats section at the 33rd Montreal Film Festival last month to a standing ovation. The little big film that revolves around a chauffeur who takes a month’s leave to fix his teenage daughter’s marriage and disappears for three months, now travels to the London fest and its veteran director is hoping for an early theatrical release back home.
“It’s a topical subject and as a filmmaker, I’d want my work to reach people as soon as possible. May be once this backlog that has piled up as a result of the multiplex strike is cleared, we could set a date,” he muses. The comic political satire inspired by two short stories, Narsaiyyan Ki Bavdi and Phulwa Ka Pul, features Sammir Dattani, Minissha Lamba and Boman Irani in a double role.
You point out that the glut of releases over the last few weeks has left the industry poorer by at least Rs 120 crore with the figure rising every week and Benegal agrees that most strategies have backfired. “Small films come together to avoid bigger competition and flopping left, right and centre. Star-studded bonanzas saturate the theatres with prints, gambling on a 90-100 per cent initial to cover costs before the audience reaction stems the flow. While the former lacks hype, the latter is all hype. Often neither works because clever marketing needs substance and vice versa,” he reasons.
Benegal’s Return To Sajjanpur was one of the few films that succeeded last year despite a small budget and the absence of saleable names. The director is generous with his praise for UTV’s promotional campaign. “Long before its release people knew Welcome To Sajjanpur was coming. How many of the films released recently with the exception of Kaminey were remembered, before or after? They were all part of a grey mass,” he maintains.
He’s hoping for a sequel for Sajjanpur. “I have an interesting plot in mind,” he nods. “I’d go with the same cast and a few more. I’ve had a couple of discussions with UTV but it’s too early to say if the film will be made. There are a few other projects too but nothing ready for take-off yet though not for want of trying.”
Would one of them be Chamki Chameli, his ambitious remake of the French opera Carmen? Benegal says that his dream project is in trouble even though it’s a tried and tested subject and is one opera that plays every day somewhere in the world. “Generation after generation has responded to the magic and madness of the hedonistic gypsy. It’s like Shakespere’s Romeo and Juliet, it can’t fail,” he asserts. “But I’m not getting the kind of money a canvas like this needs. Also, some of the stars I was hoping would say ‘yes’ said ‘no’. I’ve not given up hope.”
Some of the actresses considered for the lead were Urmila Matondakar, Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor. Benegal insists that he’d still like to make it with Kareena. “She’s a beautiful woman, a terrific dancer and a proven actress. She’d make a great Chameli.” The question: Is Kareena game for another Chameli?