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Benegal's creative bytes

Yet another historical. After Zubeida, Shyam Benegal is now making a film on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2003 18:14 IST

Shyam Benegal doesn’t like talking about himself. Quiz him about his works and chances are that Benegal will give you just the kind of soundbytes you need. Benegal, who’s currently busy wrapping up Netaji, his ambitious film predictably refuses to make a “value judgement” on his biography, Shyam Benegal (Roli Books), by Sangeeta Datta which releases officially today at the British Council.

“I’ve never had a book written on me before. I am glad, however, that this book reflects my work and doesn’t talk about Shyam Benegal, the person, that would be awkward because I don’t like people talking about me. Datta has been closely following my work and has done her homework really well. It is a very informative book — one which contains interesting nuggets for those who want to know more about Benegal the film director,” points out Benegal.

Benegal, who’s shot over 65 per cent of Netaji, admits that recreating a chapter from Indian independence is a daunting proposition. Apart from the research that goes into such a project and the massive scale on which the film is shot, “you have to be very accurate. There’s no room for making any kind of mistake over facts: that is unpardonable. Shooting the battle sequences would be very difficult, especially laying hands on some of the equipment used around the Second World War would be a mammoth task but one we have to do. We are shooting all over Uzbekistan, Berlin, Ladakh.”

In fact, Netaji also will be the first Indian film which will be shot in Myanmar. Was it difficult getting the permission though? “Not quite but I wasn’t willing to compromise on Myanmar. It took us time but finally we are going there to shoot our last lap of the film,” says Benegal. Benegal conducted a nationwide screen test for Netaji before zeroing in on noted character actor Sachin Khedekar to play the lead role. “We did a lot of screen tests. In fact when you see Khedekar without a moustache, he’s the only actor who seemed to bear closest resemblance to Netaji. The film will be in Hindi (85 per cent) with a smattering of Japanese and German and we want to release it around January 23 next year, to coincide with his birthday,” he elaborates.

Benegal, who’s never created such a lavish film in his 20-year career admits that “at the end, making films is a social art. You can’t make a film to please yourself. I have always been economical as a filmmaker, but Netaji required that kind of canvas so I shall try not to worry too much.” He is full of praise for Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Mani Ratnam, Farhan Akhtar and Ram Gopal Varma. “They are the brave new voices of Indian cinema who have dared to be different and yet drive home their point forcefully.” Much like vintage Benegal who’s been doing the same without faltering. Not even when he makes a volatile mix of art and mainstream commercial like Zubeida.

First Published: Aug 28, 2003 13:13 IST