Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Personally, I am frustrated at the visible preparations of celebrating the birth centennial of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for various reasons. The first reason behind such frustration is centering the making of Bangabandhu’s biopic. According to media reports, prominent Indian film director Shyam Benegal has been assigned as the director of the biopic and he has very recently interviewed several possible actors and actresses in Bangladesh and India to play various roles. In 1980, when the Indian government decided to make a biopic on Mahatma Gandhi, they did not even consider any of the domestic filmmakers. The film was a British-Indian joint production and the screenplay was written by John Briley and produced and directed by Richard Attenborough. Award-winning celebrated actor Ben Kingsley played the role of Gandhi in this biopic.
Gandhi was released in India on November 30, 1982, while it was released in the United Kingdom on December 3 and in the United States on December 10. It was nominated for prestigious Academy Awards in eleven categories, winning eight, including Best Picture and Best Director for the Screen for Briley. The film was screened retrospectively on August 12, 2016, as the opening film at the Independence Day Film Festival jointly presented by the Indian Directorate of Film Festivals and Ministry of Defence, commemorating the 70th Indian Independence Day. The screenplay of Gandhi is available as a published book.
Some more highlights on the film, Gandhi:
The film had been Richard Attenborough’s dream project, although two previous attempts at filming had failed. In 1952, Gabriel Pascal secured an agreement with the Prime Minister of India (Jawaharlal Nehru) to produce a film about Gandhi’s life. However, Pascal died in 1954 before preparations were completed.
In 1962 Attenborough was contacted by Motilal Kothari, an Indian-born civil servant working with the Indian High Commission in London and a devout follower of Gandhi. Kothari insisted that Attenborough meet him to discuss a film about Gandhi. Attenborough agreed, after reading Louis Fischer’s biography of Gandhi and spent the next 18 years attempting to get the film made. He was able to meet prime minister Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi through a connection with Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Nehru approved of the film and promised to help support its production, but his death in 1964 was one of the film’s many setbacks. Attenborough would dedicate the film to the memory of Kothari, Mountbatten, and Nehru.
David Lean and Sam Spiegel had planned to make a film about Gandhi after completing The Bridge on the River Kwai, reportedly with Alec Guinness as Gandhi. Ultimately, the project was abandoned in favor of Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Attenborough reluctantly approached Lean with his own Gandhi project in the late 1960s, and Lean agreed to direct the film and offered Attenborough the lead role. Instead Lean began filming Ryan’s Daughter, during which time Motilai Kothari had died and the project fell apart.
Attenborough again attempted to resurrect the project in 1976 with backing from Warner Brothers. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India and shooting would be impossible. Co-producer Rani Dube persuaded prime minister Indira Gandhi to provide the first $10 million from the National Film Development Corporation of India, chaired by D. V. S. Raju at that time, on the back of which the remainder of the funding was finally raised. Finally, in 1980 Attenborough was able to secure the remainder of the funding needed to make the film. Screenwriter John Briley had introduced him to Jake Eberts, the chief executive at the new Goldcrest production company that raised approximately two-thirds of the film’s budget.
Shooting began on 26 November 1980 and ended on 10 May 1981. Some scenes were shot near Koilwar Bridge, in Bihar. Over 300,000 extras were used in the funeral scene, the most for any film, according to Guinness World Records.
With all due respect, I would like to ask – can Shyam Benegal attain even a small fraction of such achievement? Never! He has no face value in the global cine-circuit. Still, we have assigned him as the director of the biopic of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Why? Don’t we have any access to the Hollywood and English film industry? Or someone on purpose has chosen Mr. Benegal to direct the film with the ulterior agenda of undermining Bangabandhu? In my personal opinion, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should immediately intervene in this matter and assign her people to find a befitting and internationally-acclaimed director for the biopic of Bangabandhu.
The media coverage
After 49 years of independence of Bangladesh, we still are unable in projecting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman properly to the international community. I would like to share a very recent shocking experience.
On December 5, 2019, Ms. Dolly Joshi, a senior correspondent of India’s leading TV channel, Republic TV contacted me for some information and video footage on our war of independence. At one point, when I requested her to include a segment on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to my utter surprise she asked – “Who is he?”
Dolly Joshi’s question not only gave me a huge shock, but I was also able to realize, we have miserably failed in introducing our Father of the Nation even to the people in our neighboring nation. Isn’t it a matter of great shame?
I am almost certain, those pundits, occupying cozy chairs in the inner circle of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will once again fail in adopting effective policies in letting the world know about the auspicious birth centennial of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They even will most definitely fail in getting proper coverage in the international media on 17th March 2020 – the birthday of Bangabandhu.
Bangabandhu’s birth centennial should be observed with huge enthusiasm and festivity in Bangladesh and around the world. We need to immediately mobilize our total efforts in ensuring – this important even is not missed in the international media.
Above all, we need to let the people of Bangladesh know, how important is Bangabandhu to us and encourage everyone in taking full preparations for celebrating March 17 with utmost enthusiasm.
I do sincerely hope, it will happen.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally known multi-award-winning journalist and editor of Blitz.