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An Interview with Shyam Benegal

An Interview with Shyam Benegal


Many of us don’t get the opportunity to meet our idols very often. So when I met famed film director Mr Shyam Benegal, I immediately plied him with some burning questions I’d always wanted to ask him. Here’s what he said:

  • Your film, Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, deals with the issue of Netaji’s life, which is quite controversial. Bollywood tends to shy away from such topics. Do you think this is changing now?

Everybody shies away from risk. The entertainment world is such that you want the largest number of people to come, so you want to minimize the risk. It is like any other business. Let’s say, a film like “Aligarh.” If it wasn’t for this director (Hansal Mehta), a lot of people would never touch a subject like that. Homosexuality is a very high-risk subject. A lot of people may not want to see it. There will be other kinds of backlash. This is where a lot of very good subjects don’t get done. You fear that it will alienate people, rather than appeal to them.

  • With the rise of Youtube and an increasing number of young filmmakers turning to short films, do you think more people are daring to try these subjects?

Yes, they are. The risk is much lower online. But the earning is not there. Ultimately, you do it out of your own volition and for your own pleasure. Otherwise, it cannot really be a business proposition. You put things up on Youtube because you develop an instant audience of vast numbers in different parts of the world. It’s available for everyone to see. And it doesn’t cost the viewers any money.

  • So the traditional industry still holds sway over such matters?

Of course. The traditional industry will always hold sway because they have control over resources and distribution.

  • What is your favourite memory of Kolkata?

I have so many, I don’t think I have just a favourite memory… Oh, no, wait, I do, I do! You know what my favourite memory of Kolkata is? When I was in college, I used to be a swimmer. I captained my state. I came for national swimming championships here, and we would go to a pool near College Street. This was one such year, I think it was 1956. I came here for a competition, in which I think I placed third, and after that I went to visit my uncle. He used to be a commercial artist. And he casually said, “Have you seen a film called ‘Pather Panchali’?” And I said, “What’s that?” “There is this film,” he replied, “by this chap who used to be a commercial artist and did book covers- you remember ‘Discovery of India’? He did that. His film is running, you should go see.” We went to a hall in Ballygunge somewhere and my cousin and I went for a matinee show. Then we went for the evening show. Then we went for the night show. I spent twelve hours in a movie theatre! I remember that day extremely well. And that’s my favourite memory of Kolkata.

  • Is that what inspired you to become a filmmaker?

    No, I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. It’s more that the film absolutely blew my mind. I went back to Hyderabad, where we had a film society, and this was one of the films that we put up there. After that, every Ray film that was made was shown there.

  • Since we’re in the book fair, which is your current favourite book?

Oh, I read many books at a time. Right now, I’m not reading any for pleasure! It’s all research for a project.


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