Mind Matters

That is my office. I am never too far from it," smiles filmmaker Shyam Benegal, pointing in the direction of the Parliament House from his eighth-storey apartment in Lutyen's Delhi, which offers a panoramic expanse of the city's greenery. For Benegal, 75, winner of seven National Film Awards for Best Feature as well as the Padma Bhushan, life has, of late, become about perfecting the balancing act. As a nominated member to the Rajya Sabha, Benegal has been juggling his parliamentary duties with the promotion of his latest film, a political satire called Well Done Abba. "I do not know if I am really being successful at either. Work is fun but Parliament is quite an experience," he says caustically.

But Parliament, he says, affords him a ringside view of issues that matter. "There are exciting days and exasperating ones. But being a parliamentarian means that I am offered a macro view of issues in the country. It's a great source of inspiration," he says. Accordingly, Well Done Abba pans the camera on rural Andhra Pradesh. The film tells the story a driver, Armaan Ali (Boman Irani) who goes on an unexpected leave of absence and, once he returns, his employer decides to sack him. What follows is an interesting and quirky narrative of the story behind his absence. The screenplay is written by Ashok Mishra and the story is inspired by three short stories Narsaiyyan Ki Bavdi by Jeelani Bano, Phulwa Ka Pul by Sanjeev and Still Waters by screenplay writer Jayant Kripalani.

True to Benegal's sensibilities, the film is peppered with dark humour while dealing with the oppressed sections of the society. "I am dealing with a serious subject here. But there is no point in being sombre all the time. You can say serious things with a twinkle also," he adds. At its core, Well Done Abba deals with the government legislation schemes and how fruitful they are for people below the poverty line. "And where there are schemes, there are also scams. I am exploring that side," he says. His obsession with rural India, says Benegal, is a well-thought out decision. "For long, semi-rural villages have been left out of our cinema. They have been marginalised in much the same way as Bhojpuri cinema has been. As a result people think there is nothing beyond urban India," he complains.

It's probably why he has never succumbed to the lure of commercial Bollywood cinema and given his own twist to the tale. So if Zubeidaa (2001) was his sole attempt at being glamorous, he weaved feminism into the plot. "Subjects that interest you in the beginning will continue to do so. What changes is the narrative technique. That needs to change with every story you choose to tell," he explains.

With an ensemble cast of Boman Irani, Minissha Lamba and Samir Dattani, Well Done Abba also has familiar faces from the Benegal stable like Rajit Kapur, Ravi Jhankal, Ila Arun and Ravi Kishen. "They are capable actors who have become part of my repertoire," he explains.

The film releases on March 26


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