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Well done Mr Benegal

Shyam Benegal’s latest film Well Done Abba is a fascinating piece of work. The strength of the film lies in its simple yet multi-layered storyline — one that is bold enough to show the issues as they exist on the ground, writes KumKum Dasgupta.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2010 23:01 IST
KumKum Dasgupta

Shyam Benegal’s latest film Well Done Abba is a fascinating piece of work. The strength of the film lies in its simple yet multi-layered storyline — one that is bold enough to show the issues as they exist on the ground. The film, based on Geelani Bano’s Narsaiyaan Ki Bawdi, revolves around the story of a ‘stolen’ bawdi (well) and a man’s journey to get it back. In between, of course, he and his gutsy daughter get a lesson on how to negotiate the slothful and corrupt government machinery that thrives on linkages with the corrupt contractor lobby.

While handling corruption as a subject, many directors have fallen into a trap: of making it an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue (citizen versus babus). But Benegal in Well Done Abba manages to avoid that slippery slope. Throughout the film, he stays focused on the strong narrative and lets the audiences figure the rest out. Many, however, think that the film is ‘preachy’. It’s definitely not. You can enjoy Well Done Abba as a simple story or get a candid view of the governance problems that plague this country. And, if you see the movie a little critically, you’ll understand why as a country we end up spending so much money, manpower and material in trying to put down so-called anti-State activities that are born out of deprivation.

In an web interview, Benegal pointed out that it’s the rural-urban divide that’s shaping reactions to the film. “I’m not trying to be nostalgic, but films in earlier days saw the world in a much broader way. Keep your head in the clouds. But your feet must be planted on the earth firmly,” he told a film website.

Films with some kind of public message (3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par, Munnabhai and Slumdog Millionaire etc) had managed to get ‘tax free’ tag from the government. But till now, no such luck for Well Done Abba. This at a time when the administrators and politicians know that our public delivery mechanisms are in a crisis. Even senior politicians like Pranab Mukherjee have talked about how the best of policies made in New Delhi are failing to make any dent, thanks to the weak delivery pipelines.

But then which government would want to point the gun... sorry... camera towards itself?