'Mujib: The Making of a Nation' seems the unmaking of a biopic

Shyam Benegal's biography of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman lacks depth, turning the historical figure into a lifeless character in a stiff drama

Arifin Shuvoo in Shyam Benegal-directed biopic 'Mujib: The Making of Nation' (2023) (photo: IMDb)
Arifin Shuvoo in Shyam Benegal-directed biopic 'Mujib: The Making of Nation' (2023) (photo: IMDb)

Subhash K Jha

Mujib: The Making of a Nation (Bengali with English subtitles)

Starring Arifin Shuvoo, Nusrat Imrose Tisha

Directed by Shyam Benegal

Rating: ** ½

It is  acutely heartbreaking to say this. But Shyam Benegal’s biopic on the architect of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is just plain dull and stiff-necked. The galaxy of earnest actors look right for their parts — they are  mostly from Bangladesh, except Rajit Kapoor (an old Benegal favourite), who makes a frightening Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The biopic’s most colossal failure is Arifin Shuvoo in the title role, however.

A television actor with little experience, he turns Sheikh Mujibur Rahman into a character in a high-school drama in this hagiography.

Even in the hands of the regularly brilliant Benegal (who earlier made an equally dreary biopic on Subhas Chandra Bose many years ago), the story of  Sheikh Mujibur’s fight for separation never transcends the laudatory leaps that the screenplay (by Atul Tiwari and regular Benegal collaborator Shama Zaidi) takes to make the subject of the biography look squeaky-clean.

The characters, locations, settings and emotions are so sanitised that we can almost smell the disinfectant. Even the interiors are designed rather than organically induced.

There is  this longish conversation between young Mujib and his mentor and party leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (played by Tauquir Ahmed), who served as the prime minister of Pakistan and who vehemently opposed  the two-nation formula. This is Mujib’s last conversation with his mentor in England. A log of wood burns in a strategic corner of the room, creating a stylish reflection in Mujib’s glasses.

That same stagey mood courses throughout the veins of this well-meaning but vain and self-conscious biopic. Every frame is designed to reinforce the myth of Mujib’s virtuous character — which would have been just fine had there been any room for some fun and mischief in the portrait.

The only moment of enjoyment that I recall after nearly three hours of glorification is when Mujib is seen swaying to Hemant Kumar’s Na yeh chand hoga. That’s 6 seconds in three hours. The rest is all posturing, with very little feeling.

Even the scenes between Mujib and his wife Renu (Nusrat Imrose Tisha) and their children look like cutouts from a family album. 'Authentic', yes, but where are the real emotions? Sorry, there are none that we can take home and recall in repose.

No one can fault Benegal on his research work. But that very self-conscious academic halo that the film wears is what also gives it a look of  turgid scholarship and little more.

It is often said about the talented Suresh Wadkar that he is over-qualified to be a film singer. Mujib: The Making Of A Nation is the cinematic equivalent of a Suresh Wadkar.

What it needed was to loosen up and enjoy discovering the human side of the man who created Bangladesh.

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Published: 28 Oct 2023, 2:10 PM