MUJIB: The Making Of A Nationby Aparajita Krishna March 24 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins, 1 sec
Aparajita Krishna has brief but deep conversations with director Shyam Benegal, co-writer Atul Tiwari and costume designer Pia Benegal of the soon to be released film Mujib: The making of a nation.
The Bangladesh Liberation War, or, the Bangladesh War of Independence remains entrenched in my 10-year-old-girl memory as it would in the collective memory of Indians living through the time. It was a revolution sparked by the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement in erstwhile East Pakistan against the Yahya Khan led Pakistan military junta. The junta annulled the results of the 1970 elections and arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The war and the genocide lasted from 25th March 1971 to 16th Dec 1971. It ended with the surrender of the West Pakistan forces after the military intervention of India, which was then led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The impact of the liberation war emotionally affected us. I remember our school in Muzaffarpur and mohallas collecting clothes, donations of all kinds to be sent to East Pakistan. The Mukti Bahini, Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became part of our daily lexicon.
Today Bangladesh’s market-economy is counted as emerging and to be reckoned with. While the cinema of Bangladesh is nick-named Dhallywood as ours is Bollywood, all kinds of films co-exist there like it is here, with a select few garnering international recognition.
The upcoming biographical film Mujib: The Making Of A Nation, is directed by India’s own maestro Shyam Benegal. It is written by Atul Tiwari and Shama Zaidi. Among the other main credits are: cinematography by Akashdeep Pandey, editing by Aseem Sinha, music by Shantanu Moitra, art-direction by Vishnu Nishad, action by Shyam Kaushal, choreography by Masum Babul, costume design by Pia Benegal.
The main cast, apart from Arifin Shuvoo as Mujib, comprise of Nusrat Imrose Tisha as Renu (Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib), Prarthana Fardin Dighi as younger Renu, Nusraat Faria as Sheikh Hasina, Wania Zarin Anvita as Sheikh Hasina between ages 8 to 12, Fazlur Rahman Babu as Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, Chanchal Chowdhury as Sheikh Lutfar Rahman between ages 45 to 65, Riaz as Tajuddin Ahmad.
Shyam Babu is at the biological age of 87 years and creative age of 48 years since his first full length feature Ankur. The poster of the biopic has been released. This Indo-Bangladesh co-production on the life of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation of Bangladesh, is an audio-visual co-production agreement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
The film was shot extensively in India and Bangladesh amid strict COVID-19 guidelines. The film completed the shooting in December 2021 and is now in post-production. The poster has certainly connected. The director is quoted saying, ‘Mujib: The Making of a Nation is a very emotional film for me. To bring Bangabandhu’s towering life on reel is a tough task.’ Shyam Benegal is a master of the biopic genre. We got talking on the film. This curtain-raiser has inputs by director Shyam Benegal, co-writer Atul Tiwari and costume designer Pia Benegal.
Shyam Babu, one is really looking forward to the release of ‘Mujib: The Making of a Nation’. The post-production is on.
The post-production will end in July/August 2022. There is a great deal of special effects and animatronics yet to be completed, apart from titling and remixing. The film is an India-Bangladesh co-production i.e. NFDC and BFDC. I was selected to direct the film by both the organizations.
It was shot during the COVID Times in India and Bangladesh. Obviously with the guidelines. You have admirably met the deadline amid very challenging times.
It was possible because I had an excellent team and enthusiastic co- operation from both National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (BFDC).
How do you look back personally to those times of 1971 in your political and emotional recall?
I was an advertising filmmaker at the time, and deeply affected by the events in what was then East Pakistan. Several of my friends smuggled themselves across the border and joined the Mukti Bahini. A filmmaker colleague, Sukhdev, secretly filmed some of the atrocities committed by Pakistani forces and Razakars at considerable risk to his own life. Later, he compiled his material into the film: NINE MONTHS TO FREEDOM.
Do you think it was also a watershed moment for India? Obviously, it was for Bangladesh.
It was a watershed moment for India. Indira Gandhi challenged not only the US and UK on one side, who were allied to Pakistan due to mutual security treaties, but also China with whom we had a very uneasy relationship, post the 1962 war.
Indira Gandhi had become quite a hero after the Bangladesh liberation War. Does the film deal with that aspect?
We have an excerpt from an American news channel interview with Indira Gandhi wherein she justifies India’s moral and material support to the fledgling Bangladesh.
During your personal and professional interaction, how palpable was the Bangladeshi sentiment for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman?
The support for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was overwhelming. He is revered and acknowledged as the Father of the Bangladesh Nation.
Sheikh Hasina has been the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for a long tenure. Her government must have extended all possible help. How was the interaction?
The support from Sheikh Hasina and her government has been unconditional and overwhelming. The PM herself offered many insights into Sheikh Mujib’s life, both political and personal.
From what one gathers Bangladesh has done very well economically. Especially in food, cereal, small industry sector including textile. What explains that?
Apart from the economic policy and incentives offered by the government to small-scale industry, the sense of belonging that the Bangladeshi diaspora has for their country helps bring in remittances in foreign exchange that are quite sizeable. State planning and support help small scale industries and the high quality of their output in the areas where they traditionally excel has increased their exports manifold.
How were the actors in the film? In particular Arifin Shuvoo as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Bangbandhu).
Arifin Shuvoo was outstanding. He had worked very hard to prepare himself for the role over several months of research, poring over all the material available to him including several interviews with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The language of the film is Bengali. Will it get dubbed into Hindi, English?
Either dubbed or subtitled.
As a biopic it must be personal too, apart from being political. What most endeared you to the subject?
Sheikh Mujib had a very happy family life. A selfless loving wife and close-knit children living in harmony with each other. A rare exception for a political leader who had to live a very active life forever in public gaze.
Do inform us of the writing by Atul Tiwari, Shama Zaidi.
The script and dialogue by Atul Tiwari and Shama Zaidi emerged after extensive research and travel that included extended interviews with Sheikh Mujib’s family and associates in Bangladesh.
I am curious to know that since the biopic would be addressing India of different political times from today, will the Indian government of today like to credit India Gandhi for some factors?
I don’t think that poses any problem. All major political parties in India have been on the same page when it comes to foreign-relations.
Atul Tiwari - Co-writer with Shama Zaidi
Shyam Babu is a master of biopics. You are a very experienced writer. How did this film seem different from the other writings?
Mujib: The making of a nation, was a unique challenge for us, including Mr. Benegal, as the subject pertained to another nation, culture, history and politics. Moreover the film had to be made in another language - the ‘Opaar Bangla’ - the Bengali of ‘that side’ Bengal.
Talking for me, in the beginning I thought that one knew enough about East Bengal as after all it was a part of India till 75 years ago. But when you looked up-close, everything about that Bengal, turned out to be so different that one had to traverse a new learning curve. Just a very small example: when I first reached Dhaka, I thought let me try my Bangla and I called for ‘Jol’ when thirsty. But the waiters did not understand me. When I pointed to water they said, “Oh! You want Paani?” My ‘Ei Paar’ Bangla had failed and Hindustani had prevailed. But at the same time, this gave me and perhaps all of us, a chance to learn so much. The first-hand guidance of Hon. PM Sheikh Hasina and historian Prof. Dr. Gowher Rizvi went a long way in directing us in the right path of research.
The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War is a part of our childhood collective memory. How did you go into your flashback?
Yes, I too was ‘part’ of the 1971 war when growing up. The radio and the blackouts used to bring this war to our lives and homes in Lucknow. Then the ultimate victory of the people of Bangladesh, helped by the Indian Army was a big story. Remember, like you, I too grew up in a leftist family, where the regard for the guerilla soldiers of Vietnam War was huge. And when the Bangladeshi Mukti-Bahini adopted similar tactics, it used to thrill us.
The chance of making that battle a part of one’s film was very tempting. But, remember, it is biopic of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and not a war film about 1971 war that helped the birth of Bangladesh. Mujib’s political thoughts, fights, incarcerations, his being a quintessential family man, and his inspirational leadership during the 1971 war, even when he was physically absent, everything is a part of the huge canvass of this film.
Why do you think the film will resonate with the world at large?
It’s an important film that will resonate with audiences anywhere in the world. It’s an untold story, especially in the medium of cinema. Some of the films made in Bangladesh do take up a part of Mujib’s journey but not his whole life, as that exercise becomes a very prohibitive challenging task, artistically, infrastructurally and financially.
We were lucky to have been invited by Hon. Sheikh Hasina to take up this challenge. Despite no dearth of talent in Bangladesh, she chose Mr. Benegal, as perhaps she wanted a little neutral and distant gaze for a story, which makes every Bangladeshi very emotional.
Then it’s a David-Goliath story which itself becomes so inspiring for any generation. Coming to know the nuances of a people, culture, and country is going to be very inviting for the audiences everywhere.
What all went into the writing that you and Shama Zaidi undertook?
Reading, reading, reading. And getting Bengali books read out aloud to us. Meeting a number of people from all walks of life and region in Bangladesh. Interacting with people who were with Mujib during his time, whether as his friends, comrades-in-arm, political opponents, acquaintances, assistants, helpers, soldiers, Muktijoddha, or the journalists and civil servants of his era. Then as I have already mentioned the guidance of Hon. PM Sheikh Hasina, her sister Rehana, their very old house help Roma (who was just 12 when the family of Mujib sahib was assassinated), and historian Prof. Dr. Gowher Rizvi went a long way in directing us in the right path of search and research.
Shama Zaidi’s width of reading, depth of knowledge, and the speed-read talent, all are a great asset for a slow-lazy-dimwit Lucknowee like me. But then I might have some of my own advantages, as we have not ‘divorced’, despite our legendary ‘creative frictions’, dog-fights, and shouting-matches.
India 2022 is a very different India and the world. Politically speaking, Indira Gandhi was then revered and now… hmmm. How will that impact the film?
Of course the world as well as India is a very different place today. Almost half a century has gone since Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in 1975. But still Smt. Indira Gandhi’s historic contribution in 1971 cannot be forgotten. Politically one could disagree with her about a lot of things, including the Emergency. But tactically and strategically what she delivered in 1971 is unprecedented in world history. And it was not just military victory, but the political poise, courage and tactic that the brave lady showed in front of all the superpowers of the world is unheard off. The international bonds that she made, are still going strong today, despite that everyone is not her political fan. She did not just make history; she changed the geography of the world in 1971. And no one can deny that.
Pia Benegal: Costume Designer
The script was set in a period time frame. It shows East Pakistan in 1940’s until the year 1975.
Considerable amount of research was done on this project and a lot of preparation was required regarding the costumes on this film. The scenes in this film have large crowd sequences, which we were very worried about during the COVID problem in India and Bangladesh. All sequences were prepared for by my department. Due to the length of the film several sequences had to be trimmed or even deleted.
Most of the costumes were made in India. The manpower was divided between Indian and Bangladeshi people in the costume department.
The costume department got full support from the honorable PM Sheikh Hasina with her personal photographs, complete access to all the museums in Bangladesh and the help from all the men in the army, air-force and navy when necessary.
The people who were hired in Dhaka as part of my costume department were very hard working. We did have issues with the junior artist suppliers and other juniors who stole our costumes on a daily basis. We had a very difficult time dealing with this problem. We were dressing a minimum of 500 to maximum 1500 junior artists, secondary characters and main characters every day. This project was a truly challenging one and I really did enjoy working on ‘Mujib, The Making of a nation’. Several times I wished I understood Bengali.
India, Bangladesh and the world await with nostalgia and expectation the release of film.