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Beyond the stars

‘I’m always looking for a good performance, but that may not necessarily enhance a star’s image,’ says Shyam Benegal.

entertainment Updated: Feb 23, 2010 01:26 IST
Hiren Kotwani

The promos of Well Done Abba have the feel-good factor and are reminiscent of your last film, Welcome To Sajjanpur. The only thing common to both films are that they are comedies. Well Done Abba is a political satire on well-meaning social legislations to help those below the poverty line. Many of these schemes turn out to be scams.

Isn’t it an adapatation of a novel?
It’s been adapted from two short stories, Narsaiyyan Ki Bavdi and Phulwa Ka Pul. I’ve also taken elements from Jayant Kriplani’s script.

In the past, we’ve seen writers haggle for credit, Kamlesh Pandey and Rensil D’Silva after Rang De Basanti and recently, Chetan Bhagat after the release of 3 Idiots. Aren’t you apprehensive of something like this happening with you too?
Not at all. We’ve sorted things out with all three writers, Jeelani Bano, Sanjeev and Jayant. In Chetan Bhagat’s case, it was a question of echnicality. I’ve seen the film and except for the fact that the three students study in an engineering college, there’s little similarity with Five Point Someone. Chetan should not have brought up the issue.

The film’s been complete for a while, so why the delay in the release?
The film was invited for the film festivals. So, Big Pictures wanted to release it after it had done the rounds of the festival circuit. It was screened at international film festivals in Montreal, London, New York and Dubai. Sometimes producers are not keen to ‘expose’ the film at festivals but a good response at international platforms helps in the promotional lead-up to the release.

Could foreign viewers comprehend the Hyderabad dialect?
We got standing ovations and the after-screening Q and A sessions always packed a full house. Boman (Irani) told me that the audience enthusiasm was always high during these interactions. When I set my story in a particular place, I make sure the characters speak the correct dialect. That’s been a norm all these years. Our foreign viewers may not understand what is being said but they connect with the film as a whole.

Has the corporate culture really benefitted our film industry?
The manner in which they contribute to a film is different from that of an individual producer. After the corporates came in, star prices suddenly hit the roof. But eventually, correction did take place. Like everything else, corporate funding has its plus and minus. But one thing’s for sure, it’s changed our attitude and approach to filmmaking. They have streamlined and organised the business for the better.

The last big star you worked with was Karisma Kapoor in Zubeida. Why is that despite the acclaim your films bring them, you are not able to rope in saleable names? Is money an issue?
(Laughs) If a film is good, the star will be acclaimed. It’s not money alone, the subject and the image the star wants to project, also make a difference. As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking for a great performance. But it may not necessarily enhance a star’s image. I guess that’s where the hitch lies.

Will Chamki Chameli ever be made?
I haven’t given up hope yet. It seems jinxed at the moment. Who knows!

What’s next?
(Laughs) I have no clue. ‘Having won several National Awards and also the Padma Awards, what do you think of the controversies surrounding these national honours? There aren’t issues every time. By and large they are known to be fair and untainted. The controversies arise when a couple of undeserving people are selected. When I was on the jury for the National Awards, there were no controversies. I wouldn’t like to comment on the recent award winners. If an actor’s performance is good, it should not matter if the film is a light romantic or a serious issue-based subject.