Not so well done, Mr. Benegal
The 70’s saw a major arthouse upheaval in Bollywood. Positioning itself parallel to the mainstream cinema was a diametrically opposite school of filmmaking which churned out cinema that mirrored reality rather than provide an escape from it. One of the leading lights of this parallel movement was a man called Shyam Benegal. Benegal is a two time Padma awardee, seven time National Award winner for best director & a recipient of the nation’s highest cinematic honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He directed some of the masterpieces of the 70’s and 80’s such as Manthan, Nishant, Bhumika, Junoon, Kalyug & Mandi. In the 90’s, he started moving more mainstream with Mammo, Sardari Begum & Zubeidaa. When he made Welcome to Sajjanpur in 2007, it marked a welcome change in his career graph; as he blended his knowledge of rural India with his cinematic sensibilities to create a contemporary version of his films from the 70’s.
Well Done Abba, Benegal’s latest, is based on a very contemporary theme and a burning issue – the situation in Telangana, where perennial drought & corruption in places high & low has made life hell for its denizens. The drought has lowered the water table to abysmal levels. And even though there are schemes floated by the government to help the poor, the ever hungry chain that’s supposed to deliver this help to the target (the Indian bureaucracy) siphons off all the cream and the poor only get drops of whey. The film is a well intentioned account of how the right to information (RTI) Act can help bring about a revolution in the country. And how such a revolution can change the ways of this mighty bureaucracy. But as a friend said it, albeit a little bluntly and harshly, good intentions alone can’t make a good film. Even we want to make good films.
The film tells the story of Armaan Ali (Boman Irani) who works as a driver in Bombay. His daughter stays with his twin brother and his wife (Ila Arun) in his village, Chikadpalli, somewhere in the Telangana region. He takes a month’s leave from his job to get his daughter (Minisha Lamba) married. In his village, he looks at the water situation and decides to apply for a government grant to dig a well. However, bribing his way to the end, he realizes that he doesn’t have any money left to dig the well. On his daughter’s behest, he files an RTI application to get the names & addresses of other people who applied for the grant and finds them in a state similar to his. The aggrieved villagers then launch an agitation and since it’s very close to the elections, the irrigation minister succumbs to the pressure. Finally, aal eejh well.
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