Art & Entertainment

Shyam Benegal On Being Neutral In Political Films: Objectivity Must As We Are Responsible To History

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal says it is important for a director to be objective while making films about politically relevant events and personalities.

Shyam Benegal

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal says it is important for a director to be objective while making films about politically relevant events and personalities.

Benegal, considered a pioneer of the Indian parallel cinema movement with classics such as "Ankur", "Nishant", "Manthan", "Bhumika", "Junoon" and "Mandi" to his credit, said it is always easy to take sides but a storyteller has a responsibility towards history and must present it as objectively as possible.

"It is easy to take sides. You cannot look at it objectively, not everybody can, even I cannot, but the fact is that we have to see to it that we are as objective as possible because you are responsible to history, not to anybody else," Benegal told PTI in a group interview.

He was asked about movies like Vivek Agnihotri's "The Kashmir Files" and Sudipto Sen's "The Kerala Story", and how important it is for filmmakers to stay neutral when they make films about politically relevant events.

"It depends on how close you are to the (subject), whether you can be objective enough or not. Now 'The Kashmir Files' is a very earnest film but he is too close to the subject because he is (referring to actor Anupam Kher) a Kashmiri himself, he is too close. He cannot have the objectivity that is necessary," Benegal said.

Starring Kher and Pallavi Joshi, "The Kashmir Files" depicted the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir valley in the 1990s. It opened to polarised reactions in March 2022 but became one of the most commercially successful Hindi films of the year.

Benegal, 88, is currently promoting his latest film "Mujib - The Making of a Nation".

The biographical drama narrates the life story of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh and later its prime minister who was assassinated with most of his family in 1975.

Benegal said it is difficult to make a film on a politician's life. He added that it was essential for him to tap into the humane side of Rahman and bring out unknown facets of his life.

"It is not easy to make because you end up doing many conventional things. It is very difficult to say anything from another point of view because so many points of view have already been covered by so many people -- historians and newspaper reporters ---because they are people in the news and hence there's a lot written about them.

"So, in that jungle of information you have to find your way and find that one thing that suddenly reveals the man. It's like peeling an onion. Like, we have our prime minister, how many of us know him, I don't know but we think we know him because there's a public image about him. But how many of us know him as a person? This happens with public figures."

"Mujib – The Making of a Nation” is a collaboration between India’s National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (BFDC).

Benegal credited the central government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for allowing him to make the film the way he wanted to make.

"I must say our present government has not for a minute... It has nothing in common with the government that was there that time but despite that they did not ... our present prime minister did not stop this film from taking shape the way it did, nobody sat there and told me what I should be doing," he said.

Bangladeshi actor Arifin Shuvoo plays the title role in the film, which also stars Nusrat Imrose as his wife Renu and Nusrat Faria as Sheikh Hasina, his daughter and the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

"Mujib - The Making of a Nation” is scheduled to be released in theatres on Friday.