Shyam Benegal on his new TV show, filmmaking and the changing times

Almost three years after he brought Discovery of India to our television sets, widely acclaimed filmmaker Shyam Benegal is now in the news for his series Constitution of India on Rajya Sabha TV. The series has 146 characters, including the leading lights of the day like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and even Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Benegal is hopeful that like Discovery of India, this series too would be talked about for a long time. Many private channels have apparently shown interest in it already.

Benegal is anyway not a quickie film or television series maker. For him, it is a work of art. “This is a medium that I personally feel most comfortable with and that is why I am a filmmaker. A good film is which goes beyond its time. It should not be like a newspaper which is read only on that particular day and thrown away, nobody would want to read it the next day. A good film is like a novel which can be read any day,” he said, referring to the festival of films been telecast on Zee Classic where the likes of Trikal, Bhumika and Mandi will be shown.

He, however, feels that the audiences at the time when such films were made were not as receptive as the modern-day ones. “There is a film, Dedh Ishqia, imagine this film being made 20 to 30 years back. No distributor would have bought it because there was no audience for such films. Today everything is growing, the audience has become more educatedThey watch it not only as a film but as a form of art.”

Benegal, throughout his career, confined himself to working with actors, not stars. With just a couple of exceptions, he feels that stars are like a magnet to draw huge audience. “Stars are a property which every filmmaker wants to have so that the magnet of drawing the crowds is with him but this does not mean that it is the only kind of cinema. In India, we make 800 to 900 films a year and not every film has a star but they still do well. The reason is, the moment you cast a star, the film becomes expensive and once you make an expensive film you need a market to respond to it. The more money is invested, the larger audience is required. There is a certain kind of proportion that works with it.”

Though he is passionate about filmmaking as a director’s craft, he is realistic enough to appreciate that films are a commercial enterprise that have to recover their money for the producers. “Making a film costs money and it has to cover its costs and make some profit out of it for the person who has invested. I am very conscious about it. It is not that I am putting someone else’s money and do what I want to do just because I think I should do it my way and at the same time I will not compromise my own belief, my ideas about art. I will not make a film that I myself do not agree with.

Watch his best movies on Zee Classic which is airing Benegal@Work.


Festival to highlight Shyam Benegal’s filmsJanuary 10, 2014