With 'Samvidhaan', Benegal Re-Discovers India for Indians

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), March 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

With 'Samvidhaan', Benegal Re-Discovers India for Indians


New Delhi, March 16 -- Shyam Benegal's mantelpiece has them all: industry trophies, multiple National Awards, citations, the Dadasaheb Phalke award, France's Legion d'Honor, even the Padma Bhushan.

Four decades after he made his first film, he is considered an institution.

His body of work stretches to include ad films, alternative cinema, mainstream movies, biopics and television serials. A bevy of stalwart actors owe their careers to him. He has been director of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and twice chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He was also a Rajya Sabha MP till 2012.

At 79, Benegal could hang up his boots and soak in the sunset.

Instead, two years ago, he reconstituted his team - among them the ace script writer Shama Zaidi - and set about making a TV series that would bring to life the story of how India's Constitution was framed.

Making this series called for transforming the formidable Constituent Assembly debates (1946-49) into a story that young India would be interested in.

"It's an incredible story that hasn't been told before, one that ought to be widely known," Benegal says.

The result is Samvidhaan - The Making of the Constitution of India, a 10-part mini-series about how hundreds of Indians with diverse backgrounds and ideological beliefs convened in the Central Hall of the Parliament day after day, for three years, to posit, debate and argue over exactly how to frame the identity of the newly independent India.

"The Constitution is an extraordinary piece of work," says Benegal. "The challenges for us in making the series were many. I had to get the right ensemble cast, make each person on screen believable because they aren't fictional characters, the content had to be absolutely authentic yet cinematically engaging...

We had to be on the straight and narrow."

Presided over by Rajendra Prasad, the Constituent Assembly debates were sculpted by men and women such as BR Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, TT Krishnamachari, KM Munshi, Alladi Krishnaswami Iyengar, Hansa Mehta and Amrit Kaur. …

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