Content Creators Have Become More Cinema Literate, Says this Veteran Filmmaker
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When I met director and writer Shyam Benegal at a South Mumbai’s college auditorium, he was wearing his classic solid blue shirt with black pants and a smile on his face. The veteran filmmaker was expected to give a small talk at the ITCH Summit, hosted by the Prahlad Kakar School of Branding and Entrepreneurship. Instead, the 86-year old Benegal ended up inspiring a room full of students.
Benegal was in love with cinema from the age of about five. His father, a professional photographer, would often make 16mm home movies of his children. “I was sixth in line among 10 siblings and therefore, I had a lot of cinema to see at a very young age. It didn’t take me very long to make my own film,” he shared.
Once the bug bit him, he reached out to his oldest brother to understand the dos and don’ts of filmmaking. His brother was an artist – a portrait painter to be more specific, had no clue about filmmaking but to help his young Benegal, he bought him reading materials to understand how to work out on the structure to make films.
“By the age of 11, I wrote my first film script and at the age of 12 with my father’s A R Bolex 16mm, I made my first film – Chuttiyon Main Maauj Mazza,“ added the seven times national award winner.
Benegal knew the craft of filmmaking and therefore is no point joining the newly inaugurated Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Instead, he completed his formal education with MA in economics from Osmania University, Hyderabad.
With an itch to make films, he joined National Advertising Services as a copywriter and from there moved to Lintas as a copywriter and within a month, he started making ad films for the agency.
Advertising taught him to make a statement visually in the simplest and economical way, but he gave up the job because it wasn’t satisfying his covet and therefore started exploring longer films such as documentaries and feature films.
The Saga of New-Age Cinema
In 1973 when the Hindi film industry was going all gaga over Amitabh Bachchan and chocolate boy Rishi Kapoor, Benegal released his first feature films Ankur, which is said to be based on a true story focusing on socio-economical and sexual exploitation. The movie also introduced Bollywood with its finest actors like Shabana Azmi and Anant Nag
As a filmmaker, it was never his ambition to make money from cinema but was solely a medium to express himself.
The veteran would generally discuss women-related issues through his cinema, about which he says, “The Indian society is unequal between men and women. It was always stated the women have role slotted to them either a homemaker or mother and a daughter. Due to lack of choice, women by and large must have fought against such slotting. The subjects of my films have will eventually come on to this. Motivations to be recognized as equal and the sense of being rebellion have driven the characters of my films.”
Just like any other filmmaker, Benegal wants his audiences to empathize with what’s going on in the screen. Without that empathy, there is no connect, and nobody wants to do something where there is no connect.
Moreover, the director has never defined films as commercial or non-commercial. For him, a script should be exciting enough to make a film. “When you produce a film, it requires your creative input, something that you really want to make or something that you feel has life experiences attached to, then you don’t think of terms like commercial or non-commercial. Instead, you will feel how experiential you want to be,” he points out.
Evolution of Film-making
Although India has the most number of filmmakers in the world, we have not been able to expand our cinematic bandwidth or in other words, we have never allowed filmmakers to express the story or narrative in their own way. For instance, while telling stories, Indian films would often break into songs in the name of entertainment.
If you didn’t fit into the format, you cannot make a film. If at all you made it, the movie usually would be unsuccessful because audiences back then were accustomed to a particular format.
But today, it is different as Benegal feels people have evolved as audiences and content creators have become more cinema literate.
“There are marvellous directors in the country and I feel some of them are as good as international directors. We have filmmakers who are offering life experiences and there are more of them now than in the past, which only tells you that both our audiences and content creators are more cinema literate than they ever were,” he shares with a satisfactory tone.
On asking him, his favourite Indian film marker, he promptly names Neeraj Pandey of 'A Wednesday' fame.