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Mujib: The making of a Nation Movie Review - Joy Bangla; also, such joy, Benegal!

Updated on: 29 October,2023 08:10 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

That’s Sheikh Hasina, by the way, currently the Prime Minister of Bangladesh (also, the longest-serving). She is, in effect, the might behind the making of this movie

Mujib: The making of a Nation Movie Review - Joy Bangla; also, such joy, Benegal!

A still from Mujib: The making of a Nation

Mujib: The making of a Nation
U/A: Biography, drama
Dir: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Arifin Shuvoo, Nusrat Imrose Tisha
Rating: 3/5

Soon after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujib), the protagonist, has delivered a talk on secularism in the film, his first child is born. He holds the baby, suggesting she’s gone after her mother’s looks. Suitably naming her Hasina (nicknamed Hasu)! 

That’s Sheikh Hasina, by the way, currently the Prime Minister of Bangladesh (also, the longest-serving). She is, in effect, the might behind the making of this movie. 

It’s something the film’s director, Shyam Benegal, told me years ago about—getting invited by Madame PM over to her residence to discuss a biopic on the centenary year of her father, Mujib, aka ‘Bangabandhu’, the founder of Bangladesh.

A film like? You’d, of course, skip a beat—Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). Such is how Benegal got to deliver a movie, on Bengal. Arguably his most ambitious project yet. At age 88. 

I say, collectively, Bengal. Because both the East—i.e., East Pakistan, after Partition (1947); now, Bangladesh, after liberation (1971)—and West Bengal, in India (which should just be called Bengal) have a shared history. More so in the context of Mujib, from Tungipara, who started off with student politics in Calcutta. 
He ended up leading a new republic, with Tagore’s verse for its national anthem (as with India). Mujib, you can tell, is a huge Bertrand Russell fan. He named his youngest child, Russel. 

There is Gandhi in the film too. Mujib reveres him. Although they would’ve had differences of opinion. Mujib belonged to the Muslim League, during the freedom movement. Gandhi was dead against dividing India, basis religion. 

Either case, their stories couldn’t be more divergent. Besides, that they were both fatally fearless. Bravely staring at power, to the frickin’ face. Willing to pay every price. 

That part sufficiently comes through the entire movie that opens with the return of the people’s hero, Mujib, into his homeland, after nine months in a Pakistani jail. Having been sentenced to death. Once, literally hearing his own grave getting dug outside the prison cell. 

Of course, tables swiftly turned. He survived. But the struggles continued. Even in realpolitik thereafter, among his own people and the power structures within a brand-new Bangladesh. 

After all, colonialism holds no monopoly over discrimination, injustices, intolerance, even incitement of riots. Or going after intellectuals, journalists, activists, artistes… Merely the villains in history keep changing. 

As you watch here, in the case of East Pakistan. Given the all-out suppression that began under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime. The issue? Language, not religion, this time. With Urdu being imposed on Bengalis. Mujib, in his full-frontal attack, also has a six-point agenda, that covers far more. 

Hence, in what may be the first such event in history, we had the majority community, about 10 crore Bengali speaking people, demanding independence from a minority, that is six crore, in West Pakistan—separated by India for a landmass, in between. Frankly, every element of this episodic story is a film of its own. 

Down to, as you witness, the largest air-dropping of soldiers since WWII! What became the 1971 Bangladesh war. Making this an incredibly complex piece to film, from start to end—the history of an entire nation, told through one man, Mujib!

I can see why PM Hasina would’ve picked Benegal for her father’s biopic. Benegal is the father-figure of India’s parallel cinema movement himself. A safe hand to deal with a complicated subject. At least, never once overplaying his hand. Neither does his lead actor, Arifin Shuvoo. Everything is suitably understated. Which can be both a good thing and not so. 

For, as an audience, it does feel more and more like a breathless lesson, while I take my notes all through, catching events/moments and men, who mattered, and that I know nothing about—Maulana Bhashani, ‘Sher-e-Bangla’ Fazlul Huq, Shamsul Huq, Mujib’s mentor Huseyn Suhrawardy, Direct Action Day, Agartala Conspiracy… 

Each bears an unexplored backstory. You’re awed by the sheer number of scenes, spanning a lifelong struggle. The climax sequence of Mujib’s death is a long episode of its own. 

This should have been a patiently structured series, instead. In a way that Benegal took on the equally precious task of narrating the making of India’s Constitution (Samvidhaan). I mean, he made Bharat Ek Khoj, for God’s sake!

This will still survive as an important reckoner, from an Indian filmmaker, for a nation next-door, that India, under Indira Gandhi, helped birth. Joy Bangla to that! 
So, yup, grab a shot of coffee. I did. What if you could get slightly sleepy, on occasion. But that’ll happen, only when you aren’t as much into contemporary history as the movies. Give it a shot. 

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