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Shyam Benegal’s biopic ‘Bangabandhu’ to immortalise Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, bolster India-Bangladesh ties

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

The 50th year of Independence is special for Bangladesh as lakhs of Bengalis died fighting for the cause of freedom. It is equally important for India as it played a pivotal role in helping them to overthrow the tyrannical rule of West Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation was the rallying point of the liberation movement. Thus, it is befitting to immortalise this personality on celluloid. Doing this is veteran director Shyam Benegal who is shooting the biopic Bangabandhu.

Announced in January 2020, the shooting of the biopic was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that norms have been relaxed, Benegal is going full steam. The director, 86, is full of vigour, as he goes about setting up the scene.

Talking about the project, Benegal says: “Bangabandhu was meant to celebrate the birth centenary of Mujibur Rahman (who was born on March 17, 1920) as well as the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh (Rahman declared Independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971). Unfortunately, the film could not be ready in time to celebrate these landmarks as we were stopped in our tracks by the pandemic.”

Shyam Benegal (Pic: Courtesy PIB)

The Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner, Benegal is to bring to the fore the humane aspects of Rahman’s personality. For instance, he was recently shooting a scene wherein Rahman is seen at his Dhaka residence refusing to eat. The reason was the distress his countrymen were going through facing famine in the 1970s.

Talking about Rahman, Benegal compares him to the protagonist of a Shakespearean tragedy. “He was a man who loved his country too much. He also trusted his countrymen too much. In spite of multiple warnings, he never believed in increasing his personal security.”

Rahman was unfortunately assassinated on August 15, 1975 in a military coup.

The shooting schedule of the biopic is expected to continue till mid-April even though the release date of the movie is yet to be announced. With the production shifting gears with Prime Minister’s scheduled visit on March 26 to Bangladesh, it is hoped that the film will be canned soon.

According to Benegal, “The remaining crowd and war sequences for the movie will be filmed in Bangladesh once the monsoon is over.”

Benegal says the production carefully tries to balance by being neither a hagiography nor too critical. While the film will not follow Rahman’s life chronologically, it is expected to touch upon certain turning points and aspects of his life that made Rahman who he was.

The movie will go beyond the “public image of a leader” and offer glimpses of his private life, he added.

The two actors who are essaying the lead roles in the film are Bangladeshi actors Arifin Shuvoo as Rehman and Nusrat Imrose Tisha as Fazilatunnesa, Rahman’s wife. The movie is being jointly produced by the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (BFDC) and National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). The roles of Sheikh Hasina and Sohrawardy will be played by Nusraat Faria and Tauquir Ahmed.

Talking about his role as Rahman’s father, Khairul Alam Sabuj said, “I am very excited about my role. Based on the famous image of Bangabandhu and his father, I collected a similar piece of clothing for my role.” Dilara Zaman as Rahman’s mother is preparing for make the role authentic.

Since Benegal was clear about making the film in Bengali, he decided to choose Bangladeshi actors for the prominent roles. The original script has been written by Shama Zaidi and Atul Tiwari which is in English. “We have writers who adapted it in Bengali and brought in the local idiom,” observes Benegal.

Apart from the biopic, an airtime exchange programme between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Radio Betar has also been launched. The content from Maitree service has started airing in Dhaka while reciprocally content from Bangladesh Radio Betar has started been airing on All India Radio in Kolkata.

Commenting on the new heights achieved in India-Bangladesh relations, the Bangladesh Information Minister Muhammad H Mahmud said “without the support of India, the liberation of Bangladesh would never have been possible; our relationship is historic.”

Terming this friendship as organic, Prakash Javadekar, the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, said both the countries shared a great legacy. “We look forward to engage further with Bangladesh TV (BTV) and Betar in co-production of content. Also India will extend all possible cooperation to Bangladesh in setting up the BongoBandhu film city.”