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Come back to comedy

Shyam Benegal, all of 74, has reinvented himself with a light-hearted and tender comedy Welcome to Sajjanpur. “You have to find new ways of narration, or else people will think you are archaic.” The master filmmaker tells t2 of his future work that spans a wide range and the need of exposure to international cinema.

After the success of Welcome to Sajjanpur, what would we get next from Shyam Benegal?

My next project is a little comedy for which we are in the process of negotiating with actors. Shooting will start in February. It will connect village to town. Sajjanpur was set in a village. People shouldn’t forget the villages. That is happening with the films that are being made today.

And what about your long-pending Chamki? You have a new producer on board, don’t you?

Yes, Chamki is with Reliance now (the earlier producer was Sanjay Gupta’s White Feather Films). I am setting it in Rajasthan and the only window for shooting there is in winter. So there is no option there but to wait till next December.

The opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (based on a gypsy girl who seduces and jilts a soldier, who then kills her) is known to reach tremendous heights of passion and emotion. Is the cinematic idiom equal to the task?

I am basing Chamki on the 19th century French novella (by Prosper Mérimée) which Bizet adapted for the opera, not the opera itself. So there should not be a comparison.

What about another pending project of yours, Spy Princess? You have got the film rights to Srabani Basu’s book.

Lord Meghnad Desai and his wife have the film rights to the book (on Noor Inayat Khan, a descendant of Tipu Sultan and a British-Indian princess who served as a spy during World War II. She was captured and killed by German forces). I have been helping them with suggestions on the script. The final script is ready. But it is an expensive project. The scale is large, spread over the Second World War.

Is the global recession affecting the film?

Yes. It will be an international film, in English. The Indian film industry is not so affected by the recession, but the international film market is. We are targeting the audience in the US and Europe. Talks are on. It will be my second English feature film after The Making of the Mahatma, but this story has, if I may be permitted to use the word, more masala. It is intimate as well as epic.

You have chosen some films to be screened in the ‘50 Films to See Before you Die’ segment beamed on Fridays at 11pm on UTV World Movies channel. Doesn’t the title carry sinister overtones?

(Laughs) Don’t go simply by the blurb. World cinema on television is a new development. I am the president of the Federation of Film Societies of India (FFSI), which was started in Calcutta under Satyajit Ray 50 years ago. It aims to sensitise Indian audiences to cinema as an art form.

Indians are exposed only to two narrative styles that determine the market — popular Indian cinema and Hollywood. But there are other styles too. Only film society members have access to this window but the movement never went beyond a certain sphere. It is expensive to hold film festivals as people are no longer ready to allow screening at nominal rates. On satellite TV everyone gets to see it.

Which are your favourite films?

Gold Rush, City Lights, Pather Panchali, Bicycle Thieves, Citizen Kane… Among today’s Asian directors, I also love Wong Kar-Wai, Kim Ki-duk, Zhang Yimou and T. Kitano.

(Benegal’s chosen films for UTV World Movies’ Friday 11pm slot are Carlos Saura’s Iberia on January 9 and Fados on January 16, Vittorio De Sica’s Bocaccio 70 on January 23 and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror on January 30)

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