If one has had the time or the inclination to watch Rajya Sabha TV, more often than not, one has been privy to the daily drama that takes place within the Parliament. Leaders hurling abuses, engaging in scuffles that end in pepper spray fights to debates that come to a complete stand still, we have witnessed pandemonium at its worst.
Now contrast this with Shyam Benegal's specially commissioned 10 part docu-drama Samvidhaan, currently running on Rajya Sabha TV, with its final episode airing this Sunday at 10 am.
The mini series made for television, tells the story of the countless hours of effort that were put in by the first political leaders of free India into drafting the document that acts as the very foundation of the country.
"I think it would be wrong to say that our representatives don't know how to debate anymore. During my tenure in the Rajya Sabha as an MP, I have witnessed some excellent debates. People like Arun Jaitley, Abhishek Singhvi, Ravishankar Prasad are superb speakers and have brought brilliant submissions to the table. These are people who can make their points succinctly. It's also however true that the quality of debates might have come down a bit, which was not the case during the older days, when our leaders could put across a point without screaming or shouting," explains Shyam Benegal, the man behind path breaking films like Ankur, Trikal, Mandi, Manthan, Junoon, Nishant and many more.
According to Benegal, every word of the mini-series is based on fact and has been put into the show after months of research by himself and his team.
"We went through the entire set of the Parliament recordings of debates from December 1946 to November 1949 and chose what we thought were the most revelatory moments and turned into a 10 hour show. There was no need for fictionalising or changing anything as these debates were filled with their own inherent drama. It was only a question of choosing the best moments," he explains. The show was always conceptualised as a 10 part series. "A film couldn't have possibly told the story in such short time. It required the 10 hours it got. However, if you look at the production quality, it is nothing short of cinematic," he says.
As far as its intended viewers are concerned, Benegal feels that people now more than ever are beginning to take interest in how the country is being run. "There are lots of viewers for a show like this. Even down the years, I see students turning to Samvidhaan to learn about the constitution of India. If nothing else, this works as good learning material for those appearing for their Civil Services examinations," he laughs. And this is not the first time Benegal's turned to television. He has previously made acclaimed docu-dramas for Doordarshan, like Yatra (1986) for the Indian Railways and Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), the sprawling 53 episode TV show, based on Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India.
With over 150 actors roped in for the TV series, most of whom are veterans and have worked with Benegal on multiple occasions, the show features the likes of Sachin Khedekar, Dalip Tahil, Utkarsh Majumdar, Tom Alter, Ila Arun, Amit Behl, KK Raina, Rajendra Gupta, Aanjjan Srivastav, Suzanne Bernert, Narendra Jha and Neeraj Kabi.
For Benegal, who made his first short film when he was 12, cinema has been a life long passion. "I hope cinema will always act as a vehicle of worthwhile ideas and thoughts, rather than stooping down to show something like two people thumping each other to death. People who make such films must have very retarded minds," he says.
He is a huge fan of current film-makers like Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee. "These are hugely talented film-makers who have successfully managed to make the cross-over between austere parallel cinema and the masala Bollywood films. They are able to tell stories with great amount of sensitivity as well as great taste. I look forward to watching more movies by them," says Benegal. A good film-maker, according to Benegal, must have talent above all else. "You cannot work very, very hard and hope to make a good film. Talent is necessary. Along with talent, you need the ability to be true to yourself and work without compromise and dedicate your entire life to your vision," he explains.
A huge fan of Satyajit Ray, Benegal had also made a biographical film on Ray. When he showed the film to Satyajit Ray, Ray apparently commented,"There's a whole lot of Ray, but very little Benegal in the film."
Currently, Benegal has started work on his next commissioned project, a 90 minute film on Punjab's history. "The Punjab government is working at building Jalandhar as a cultural centre, which will have art installations, theatre work and will also screen this movie 24 hours of the day. The idea is to use this film to tell the story of Punjab to the present and future generations and provide a background to their culture, as a huge part of Punjab's population is now settled abroad," he says.
Samvidhaan will air its final episode on Rajya Sabha TV on Sunday, May 4, at 10 am and 1pm. The episodes are also available on Rajya Sabha TV's YouTube channel.