Posts tagged ‘Shyam Benegal’

June 1, 2012

Indian cinema is celebrating its 100 years.

Part 2: Cinema Unlimited

Critics and film buffs across India term the past few years as the new Indian New Wave, a kind of resurgence of Indian cinema. A novelty that one probably never saw apart from the parallel cinema movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a few NFDC gimmicks dispersed throughout the last century and masterpieces by the great Indian filmmakers who are not limited by classifications – Ray and Ghatak in Bengali cinema, Adoor in Malayalam cinema and Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani with their revolutionary ideas in Hindi cinema. It would be very unfair not to mention names like Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen in this context. But all these movements, experiments and geniuses were then. Now is the age for commercial blockbusters and market savvy films. In this environment of mass consumption and commoditized cinema, when people say that Indian cinema is seeing a creative spurt, then filmmakers must be creating something that is worth a keen look.

I think this reinvention started with Mani Ratnam, a Tamil, Telegu, Kannad and Malayalam filmmaker who was as poetic in his screenplay on paper, as he was on shot direction with a camera. Some of his films not only garnered critical acclaim but were huge commercial successes as well. This might be one of the primary inspirations for other filmmakers to be bold and venture into the long forgotten territory of conscious cinema that also makes some dough. Mani’s Nayagan is one of my favourite films and the credit must be shared with Kamal Haasan the actor. His venture into Hindi cinema with the dubbed Roja and Bombay still have the ability to give you goose bumps with their beautiful, almost picture perfect frames and hardcore-to-the-point-of-disturbing subjects. This terror trail was bracketed at the end by Dil Se, a Hindi film that was so stylishly European that it was a huge dud at the Indian box office (but a hit overseas). And in any case, it is hard to make a hit out of a love story destined to end tragically from the very first shots of the film.


fires and barbed wires

The stylization was also evident in the amazing cinematography and lighting used by the duo of Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan. The dilemma of staying put or walking away was a constant throughout the movie and never better established than through the following scene of a radio studio where the door constantly shuts and opens, leaving the actors in an uncertain light.


These films were followed by one of the most exciting Indian film in recent years. I am talking about the ingenious direction of Ram Gopal Verma (exec producer of Dil Se), to a maverick screenplay by Anurag Kashyap, for a seminal film that Mumbai loves, Satya. The underworld had always been in a love tango with Indian cinema. Despite having a primarily Bomaby-centric focus, films across most Indian languages did not shy away from these goons. The style, overbearing persona and the rise and fall storyline was always a hit with the crowds and formed a plot base for many Indian films. But Satya was different. RGV was so assured and knew what he wanted from every frame. The scene where Bhiku proclaims himself the king of Bombay is so ironically structured against the vastness of the sea with the high rises in the background, and a small Bhiku standing like a spec of dirt on this beautiful landscape. Ominous.

The joke will be on him!

Satya also had a protagonist who was not stylish at all. Kashyap must have been in a fix while presenting his script because his hero (villain) was so human. In fact this representation of a pathetic hero is still a prominent feature in all of Kashyap’s films.

This brings us to the prince of the new Indian cinema, Anurag Kashyap. His struggles to reach where he is today (in Cannes, to be precise) have already become legends in screen writers’ and directors’ folklore. The defiant young man who got inspired by The Bicycle Thieves has made several films, written numerous ones and been a producer to many new talents. With two banned films, many box office flops, one hit and a 5+ hour long opus to be released soon, Kashyap seems to have been juggling around with a lot ideas and creative outbursts. Being a little more international in his approach to cinema as a business, he is giving TED talks and attending various festivals across the globe. The idea is novel, and Indian cinema needs to be exposed to the foreign lands, but what about the Indian audiences? Taking films abroad is different than bringing films to India. A new wave is not only about going to Cannes. It is as much about appreciating one’s own Cannes.

Khosla Ka Ghosla. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Love Sex Aur Dokha. If you have seen these films then you know the genius the man behind them is. Dibakar is a true artist when it comes to film making. His style is not permanent and his idea of cinema comes from life itself. The characters in his films are unique, real and funny. Even in LSD, the element of funny was never let go off. West Delhi is his playground and he has proven that with the perfect OLLO. Watching it in a theatre was strangely exhilarating for me. As the three roles of Paresh Rawal unfolded, the film started making sense. It was not just a story of a petty robber making it big; it was a personal journey of a young man searching for his father. Dibakar makes certain that each character has a part to play, and no one is a mere spectator. It is almost Chekovian. His next is Shanghai, an adaptation of the novel Z. It will be a great film.

In all this talk of the new kind of cinema that India is seeing, there has to be a mention of a certain screenplay writer who has shown the potential that Indian cinema can tap from classic resources which have been done to death in the first world. Vishal Bhardwaj has adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays for screen, and both the films are mouth watering to say the least. While Maqbool was dark and minimal, Omkara was loud and gory. The bard would have been proud.

Being an Indian native, I am really sorry not to have mentioned some of the Tamil and Marathi cinema that has also contributed a great deal towards this cinema explosion off late. I have seen the reputed and National award winning stuff coming out of regional centres but I cannot boast of being in the know about these cinemas. Films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory and Deool are good films that need to be seen by India. When film buffs have to wait for a film to be recognized by a national award before knowing its name, then there is definitely something limiting about this new wave of Indian cinema. But, I hope, like all art movements, this one will spread and reach every region of the country. Time is not a constraint. It can happen tomorrow or two decades down the line. What is important is to strive for a complete, unlimited Indian cinema.

December 27, 2011

The Last Director: Satyadev Dubey

Theatre lost another artist this year. We all mourn the loss.

In an interview (dated 2008) by Reema Gehi, Satyadev Dubey talks about himself, his new play- KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA and of what theatre means to him. His production of Jean Anouilh’s ANTIGONE (2007) reaffirmed Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s belief, talent does what it can, genius does what it must. Satyadev Dubey came to Mumbai from Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh, to become a test cricketer. Instead, theatre became his pitch, and then his stadium for as many as four decades.

How is your health now?

I’m doing fine. I used to get bouts of dizziness. Last October at the premiere of ANTIGONE, I felt woozy. Everyone thoroughly pampered me and made my stay at the hospital a beautiful experience. You know, I’ve been a bachelor all my life. I don’t have a family. The hospital experience made me realise that I do have a family. And during my days there, I worked on a story idea for a play.

Which is?

(Laughs) My new play is called KHUDA KE LIYE MAT DEKHNA. Basically, it’s about me. The theme revolves around my work and my life. The three actors — Akash Khurana, Jagdish Rajpurohit and Shaikh Sami Usman play the three Dubeys. Akash is the main guy and the other two are his alter egos. There will be a lot of interaction between them. I call them all Dubenski.

Isn’t that being very narcissistic?

Of course it is. So? Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection. Similarly, I’ve fallen in love with the reflection of my work and my life. I enjoy the world of Acting and teaching the art.

Can Acting be taught?

Acting can never be taught but it can be learnt. This is a great mystery. You cannot repeat a performance. It may look similar but it is never the same. Naseeruddin Shah was trained for years at Delhi’s National School of Drama, and at Pune’s Film Institute. Even he doesn’t know that acting can’t be taught but he is still teaching it. When I used to conduct workshops, I would tell the students to imitate the way I perform a certain scene and then put in their bit.

But why begin with the principle of imitation?

If you are a good actor, you’ll go beyond what I do. I can give the actors a framework and then leave them to explore the rest to themselves. In that sense I give my actors not only the framework but also a lot of freedom.

Do you recommend acting schools to budding actors?

Whether you like it or not, acting schools are a huge business. Perhaps in the process, some great actors will emerge. However, a talented actor will manage to make a mark, irrespective of training. No one can guarantee that a student will become an exceptional actor. You can only teach students the tricks and give them tips. All of us know that an actor’s position is the most enviable one but only a few of us are aware that there are some remarkable theatre actors who haven’t done well financially.

You’ve dedicated almost your life to theatre. Has it been worth it?

(Smiles)Theatre has kept me alive. I can’t describe to you this feeling of being alive. If I may say so, theatre is like sex. It is a need. You have to enjoy it in order to like it. It is an extremely personal pleasure. (Pause) As you get older you stop to react. Now what do I do to keep this passion alive? I meet youngsters, I talk to them, share my experiences and wish to hear theirs. I’m always looking for fun. I am very selfish, I want to enjoy whatever I do.

Which is your most-cherished memory?

Let’s say that I’m glad that I’ve always been very lucky with my actors. They’ve all been very sincere and genuine. If I’ve survived in this field for so long, it is because of the perception of other people. I live by coincidence. Nothing in my life is planned, not even what I’m saying in this interview.

Okay, so what about the constant complaint that theatre hardly pays.

It won’t pay. Why should it? The best thing in the world is done by the amateurs. There are other ways and means of earning money. Like films or television. Today, I don’t know why I did some films. Probably to earn enough money to grow in theatre.

Don’t you get riled when you see under-rehearsed productions? 

(Nods) The amount of time, which a group believes in allotting for rehearsals is very subjective. A well-rehearsed performance is like the institution of marriage. It will be long lasting and therefore, much more valued. An under-rehearsed one is like a one-night stand. Once it’s over, it’s over for good.

Your style has been fairly conventional. Do you approve of experimental theatre gaining momentum?

How do you describe experimental theatre? In a way, all new work is experimental. The bottom line is whether the audience likes it or not. As for being conventional, I love my entries and exits. Even in my new play, there will be a proper beginning, a middle and an end.

What kind of relationship have you shared with your audience?

I often wonder of what can I do to seduce my audience. It has to be a two-way relationship. An audience must have a certain desire to watch a play. Like you want to watch a well-rehearsed performance, that is your need. Kehte hai na? Ishq hai do majbooriyon ka saath aana. It is like love, a mutual need. There is no logic in that.

Who have been the deepest influences on your life?

Shyam Benegal, whom I’ve known for over 40 years, has been one of the greatest influences on my life. Also Badal Sircar, Girish Karnad, Kumud Mishra and Vijay Tendulkar. These have been long lasting relationships. They are family. In fact, when I read Sircar’s play, EVAM INDRAJIT, I was very young and impressionable. The play inspired me to take theatre seriously. To date, I draw inspiration from it.

Besides your new play, is there anything else in the offing? 

I have put all my energies into my new play. This may be my last. I don’t know, if I’ll ever write again. You see, the themes get exhausted with actors and directors.

So what did you expect from your new play? 

I wanted to be contemporary. There is a conscious effort to be different. Every era finds its playwrights. There was Sophocles, George Bernard Shaw and in Indian Theatre came Vijay Tendulkar. Tomorrow, another playwright will emerge.

Do you see anyone of such potential?

(Lights up a cigarette) You see, everyone at some point has done something commendable. If I have to name a few, there are Akarsh Khurana and Trishla Patel, whose work I enjoy. Recently, Hidayat Sami, who has been with me since 19 years, put up a marvellous production called ALL ABOUT WOMEN. Most of the new theatre guys are doing impressive work. But quite honestly, I’m no soothsayer. I cannot predict their future.

It is said that it is very difficult to know the real Satyadev Dubey? 

(Laughs) Satyadev Dubey himself doesn’t know who he is, so how can they?

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