Karisma Kapoor played the titular role in Zubeida also starring Manoj Bajpayee and Rekha.
Karisma Kapoor played the titular role in Zubeida also starring Manoj Bajpayee and Rekha.

Zubeidaa turns 20: Shyam Benegal says love story worked even without a villain

  • Director Shyam Benegal goes down memory lane as his National Award winning film Zubeidaa completes two decades, recalls how Manoj Bajpayee was initially diffident to play a Maharaja and Karisma Kapoor was nervous.
By Shreya Mukherjee
PUBLISHED ON JAN 19, 2021 09:29 PM IST

Compelling narrative, realistic presentation and good performances, Shyam Benegal’s Zubeidaa had everything that made it a wonderful cinematic experience. The film clocks 20 years on January 19 and the director recalls how making the National Award winning film was an experience like no other.

“I chanced upon this story by Khalid Mohamed (journalist and screenwriter) and liked it. Zubeidaa was his mother and he has written it as a kind of a fictional story. He agreed to me making the film but the thing that got me thinking is that some people mentioned in the story from the royal family of Jodhpur were alive at that time,” he says.

Benegal therefore held a special screening for the royal family before taking it to world. “Fortunately to my relief they were perfectly happy with the film,” he reveals.

What caught the directors “attention and imagination” was how this unique this love had “no villains” unlike most love stories. “Yet things worked out well,” he chuckles before adding how the film’s music done by AR Rahman expressed the mood perfectly, “People still tell me good things about the songs.”

Praising outstanding performances by Rekha, Karisma Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, among others, Benegal adds, “Manoj was initially diffident, not sure if he could play a Maharaja, if he would be convincing enough. But he gave such a layered performance. He also learnt horse riding and how to play polo.”

Karisma too was “worried and nervous”, reveals Benegal. “She took help from her mother (Babita; actor) to play the part… Karisma is a fine actor and look at how she performed... She’s a complete director’s actor,” he says.

Benegal shares shooting Zubeidaa in real locations of Jaipur and Jodhpur helped in retaining the essence. “They’ve this sort of feudal atmosphere… they behave, talk to each other and conduct themselves in a certain way. It’s quite fascinating. Somehow while working on the film amid that set up we all got used to those social graces and at the end of it started talking and behaving similarly. It was quite amusing,” says Benegal.

The film received appreciation but didn’t garner a great box office result. Does he feel had it released now in times of OTT, things would’ve been different? “No doubt OTT would have given it a wider audience. But I don’t think that way. Every film is different, so is its fate at box office. I’m happy with how people accepted and supported the story,” he concludes.

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