The Discovery of A New India

By Sunil Kumar

A Friday evening in the semi-ancient charm of South Mumbai‘s decrepit but interestingly old-world buildings brought me face to face with Shyam Benegal; architect of the television serial; “Discovery of India“; that I watched avidly.

English: The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India.

Visit English: The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Somewhere in the confines of my website; I had written about “Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda“; another one of Shyam Benegal’s creations. Speaking about his journey as a filmmaker; Benegal evoked a sense of artistic wonder and a world which is sometimes not represented in our film industry.

His partnership with Varghese Kurien had led to the production of the Girish Karnad starrer “Manthan“; the story of the cooperative farmers in Gujarat; and the “Dairy Revolution” which propelled India to milk self-sufficiency. The film was also produced by the farmers of Gujarat who paid Rs.2 each; a pioneering instance in the history of the world where no production house was involved in the creation of a movie. Distribution; another headache for the film industry was done by this singular “crowd-funding” initiative; years before this idea has now entered the lexicon of “slang-babble”.

English: Photograph of Shyam Benegal in his of...

Visit English: Photograph of Shyam Benegal in his office in Mumbai, India, in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responding to many questions on cinema; Benegal mentioned the distinction between cinema vis-a-vis other creative endeavours. A poem or a book can be a solitary enterprise; which the world may or may not understand. However cinema is made for the collective in mind; a fact that is self-evident. He also talked about true literature being in the mundane lives of people; their old traditions; as opposed to a narrow subset of “sophistication” which a questioner sought to understand.

The abstract vocabulary of cinema is based on real-life cues; based on the idiosyncratic nature of our existence. Many movies do not conform to this definition; where fiction can be an offensive rebound to reality; but the point here was about movies being inherently for an audience. (While some of us love to shriek and howl; the rest are in contemplative non-attention or a steady fixation).

Replying to my query on the depiction of history and mythology in the current context; Shyam Benegal said that according to him; there were no set rules; it depended on personal preference. My idea was the “graphic novel” version of reality as in “300” or “Mahadev” vs the more old-world long narratives such as in Dwivedi’s Chanakya or the “Discovery of India”.

A movie as we all know is a more time-consuming exercise; with a huge number of people; with a more subtle(sometimes pernicious) effect on society. Walking back in the teeming crowds of India’s most populous city; I could not help but wonder on the evening that was. More posts later!


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