French moviegoers flock to see Shyam Benegal’s masterpieces

The Musée Guimet in Paris, the world’s best-known museum devoted exclusively to Asian art, brings its 10th Indian Summer cinema festival to a close on Wednesday marking the end of a two-month-long celebration of India’s century-old love affair with films.

“It was our 10th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema and the choice of Shyam Benegal’s film Bhumika to close the festival was fitting. It’s about cinema, the story of a strong Indian woman, Hansa Wadkar, and it is at the same time a homage to Smita Patil, the film’s extraordinary heroine. As a director, Shyam Benegal has made a unique contribution to Indian cinema, treading a new path between cinema d’auteur and commercial cinema,” Martine Armand in charge of the festival’s programming told The Hindu.

The festival has screened a vast panorama of Indian films since September, especially landmark pictures like Dadasaheb Phalke’s earliest fictions made as of 1913, Mother India, Aawara, Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam, films from Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Bollywood. It has run to packed audiences with persons crowding the aisles and many cinephiles being turned away for want of space. “The response has been overwhelming. We had films by all the masters, old and new, from Dadasaheb Phalke to Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Raj Kapoor, Ramesh Sippy, K. Asif, Mehboob Khan, Amir Khan, Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalkrsihnan, and several others too numerous to mention. It has been a very gratifying experience,” Ms. Armand said.

Shyam Benegal — whose cycle of films chronicling the lives of Muslim families in India including Mammo, Zubeida, or Well Done Abba were screened along with his more political work like The Making of the Mahatma — said that Paris held a particular fascination for him as a city of cinegoers.

“Nowhere else have I encountered a city with such an appetite for cinema. Cultural walls just crumble here. The audiences are receptive as nowhere else in the world. There appears to be no barriers, either of language or culture, between Parisians and the films they flock to watch in such large numbers. It’s a pleasure to be here,” Mr. Benegal told The Hindu.

The Director, who is currently working on a ten-part mini-series on the making of the Indian Constitution, said he was astounded by the level and quality of parliamentary discourse in newly independent India.

“Our Constitution is a beautiful document. I was a parliamentarian myself for six years and I realised how little our lawmakers had bothered to study this document. I shall be happy if this mini-series contributes to Indians’ knowledge of this extraordinary document, which is both a stable foundation and a guide for our democracy and how it should be practiced,” Mr. Benegal said.

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