“Mujib: The Making of a Nation,” the biopic of late Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is currently in post-production and a teaser will be unveiled at the Cannes Market in May.
Popularly known as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal), Rahman was one of the founders of the Awami League party and led the movement for political autonomy for East Pakistan and the subsequent formation of independent Bangladesh in 1971. He served as the first president and then the first prime minister of Bangladesh until he was assassinated in an army coup in 1975. His daughter Sheikh Hasina is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
The film is directed by veteran Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal (“The Making of the Mahatma,” “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero”). It is a Bangladesh-India co-production between the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation and India’s National Film Development Corporation. THe two organizations are jointly handling international rights sales.
Arifin Shuvoo, best actor winner at the Bangladesh National Film Awards for “Dhaka Attack,” plays Rahman. The cast also includes top Bangladeshi actors Nusrat Imrose Tisha (“Doob – No Bed of Roses”), Fazlur Rahman Babu (“The Salt in Our Waters”), Chanchal Chowdhury (“Aynabaji”) and Nusraat Faria (“Shahenshah”).
The film is in the Bengali language and Benegal conducted auditions in Kolkata, the capital of the Indian, Bengali-speaking state of West Bengal, and Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. “The Bengali that they speak in Bangladesh is slightly different from the way they speak in West Bengal, and that was important to me because the film was going to be in Bengali… best to have Bangladeshi actors,” Benegal told Variety. “And since they’re all wonderfully trained and very professional in their attitude to the work it was a happy mix.”
The production shot in Bangladesh and India during the pandemic with COVID-19 precautions and a COVID marshal present. No one on set contracted the virus.
To tell the story of a figure as popular and revered as Rahman could have been a slippery slope but Benegal says that the process was “no problem at all.”
“The only person who could have advised me, told me yes, no, or whatever was Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, who’s the Prime Minister of Bangladesh,” says Benegal. “Now, since it was a family story for her, I was a little apprehensive. But she just said, you go ahead and make the film you want to make. And that was it. So there was no question of my being restrained by anything. So we made the film we wanted to make without any feeling that we were being hemmed in by something or that there would be something that would be censored or whatever. No such thing.”
The film is now undergoing a lengthy VFX process ahead of a preliminary teaser being prepared for the Cannes Market. “We are hoping to interest distributors in Cannes, because that’s the largest collection of world distributors who come there than any other festival in the world,” said Benegal.
A pioneer of India’s New Wave cinema movement, the 87-year-old Benegal is one of the doyens of the industry. He has won India’s National Film Awards numerous times, with his films having played at Cannes and Berlin. In 2005, he was accorded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest film honor.
Benegal has not made any film plans after “Mujib.” “I don’t think about it. I only think about the present. I can’t possibly think about the future at this stage in my life,” says Benegal.