Nearly a decade since this ten episode miniseries aired, Indian democracy has seen winds of change which have only fanned sectarian, religious divides and a pan-national brand of jingoism peddled by the government in power to mark the death of intellect.
Revisiting this series from scratch is a welcome relief and a bountiful intellectual antithesis to the current global climate; an inverted mirror to a culture of increased intolerance and violent antipathy to anything that approaches a point of reason and stability, whether geopolitical, social or economic. The national scenario is just as bleak and mercenary in terms of governance and its larger implications.
This writer is grateful to Mr. Shyam Benegal and his conscientious team of writers, actors and technicians who are able to recreate the actual speeches and waves of thought that went into the making of a democratic nation’s ultimate manifesto. The thrust on intellectual rigour, reasoned arguments as opposed to being argumentative for effect and respecting others cutting across ideological affiliations – all these timeless strands seem lost in time and have been brought to the screen with the diversity of representation. This was a Constituent Assembly that accommodated women, men, faiths, marginalised communities, tribes, princely estates’ figureheads and voices from all over the subcontinent, traversing the pre and post Partition epoch. This represents a true microcosm which we have displaced by dint of fervent, fanatic nationalistic vulgarity. Today, we see a rogues’ gallery exchange barbs and interrupt proceedings with the basest premises around democratic ideals. The contrasts are alarming in a post-modern, (post)post colonial consciousness.
As is the wont with Mr. Benegal, there are unforgettable moments galore, reveling in the simplicity of execution and clarity of thoughts that shaped a massive nation.
Sachin Khedekar is a model of practical reason and edification as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Dalip Tahil magnificent altogether in speech and mannerisms as Jawaharlal Nehru while Rajendra Gupta is his usual humble self as Rajendra Prasad, Tom Alter masterful as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Neeraj Kabi wise and heartful as Mahatma Gandhi. Then there’s Rajeshwari Sachdev as Amrit Kaur looking out for women and children of this new world, Ila Arun as Hansa Mehta contributing to the significance of the national flag as well as general constitutional principles, Divya Dutta as Purnima Banerjee, a patient listener and lucid speaker as well as the always brilliant Himani Shivpuri as Begum Aijaz Rasul whose thoughts are always full of concern for a greater future.
All these get their moments to shine amid an extended ensemble cast that is memorably etched, informed by history and the members’ collective foresight. Each member mirrors the original person’s views with precision and attention to detail.
To top it all, there’s the excellent Swara Bhaskar as narrator here. Her parts are shot around the awe-inspiring Parliament premises in Delhi. Watching her deliver her lines and trace a comprehensive history of the Republic with such elegance, the inauguration of the new Parliament complex circa 2023 and handing over of the sacred sceptre to current premier become just exercises in media attention. ‘Samvidhan’ makes it clear that it’s the people and their tireless work that drives our constitutional and societal framework ahead, in deed and spirit.
BOSE- THE FORGOTTEN HERO (2005)
Sachin Khedekar is simply brilliant as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, in Shyam Benegal’s sprawling epic about the years of painstaking effort that led him to negotiate with contentious nations and form the Azad Hind Fauj.
True to Mr. Benegal, there are no technical flourishes to distract from the immersive screenplay even though the first-half is patchy and staged with an awkward turn of events in his journey through Afghanistan. But once he finds shelter and renewed hope through connection with an Indian couple( Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Ila Arun) staying there, the scenario finds its true balance.
The brand of patriotism here is morally reflexive, never in-your-face. Mr. Bose comes across as a man who didn’t want to wait any further for an anti-colonial crusade in his own motherland. He’s a man of intellect, charisma whose powers of persuasion and reason could sway even staunchest critics or despots. But he was not willing to sway to their twisted ideologies of fascism or racial superiority to advance his own nationalist policy.
Once he connects fundamentally with non-resident Indians stationed in Rangoon and other provenances where they are far from living with dignity and marshals his force of soldiers comprising equal number of females and males, the stakes get higher. The storytelling holds a balance here through the expansive runtime of three and a half hours. The cast is stacked with reliable names like Divya Dutta, Rajeshwari Sachdeva, a young Tanishtha Chatterjee, Jishu Sengupta, Narendra Jha, Rahul Singh among others.
Watch it to find the tracts of love, political maneuvers, personal awakenings and sacrifice get a chance to come out of historical misinformation. It’s about the man and his larger ethics of equality and nation-building.
THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL FIFTH AND FINAL SEASON(2023)
This exquisitely mounted period drama was one woman’s journey to find her identity, stubbornly defying gender roles, earnest strictures and opting for the kind of humour that always came with an anti-establishment brio. It was always about toppling societal scaffoldings that had held her gender down. It was also always about putting in the work as a stand-up comedian through varying degrees of success and lack thereof, always about the sisterhood of caustic honesty and unwavering faith between Miriam and her manager Susie Myerson, always staying one step ahead of the zeitgeist in mid-century America and ensuring that ambition became synonymous with feminism in its true-blue form.
This fifth and final season was further triumphant as it circled around Midge’s career opportunities and advancing portfolio, never to reach one particular point of pinnacle but toggling between present in the 1960s and future. In the latter portions, we find her dreams fulfilled as a veritable legend but not from the stage. It’s the personal stakes that count involving her disgruntled children, mother and even frayed relationship with Susie. Further toasts to this duo’s cresting fortunes over the decades found Susie honoured for her lifetime of achievements as a kingmaker and a reunion between best friends in the late 80s that is heartwarming. Enigmas, though, still hung around Susie and found multiple perspectives. A poignant peek into her past, her only love resurfaced with all the pros and cons of that bonding. Here was an individual who lifted Midge up and knew that love can be fickle but friendships and career satisfaction are the real crowns. She didn’t need to be probed on the basis of sexuality or gender conformity. She was and will remain the funniest, empathetic and uncompromising one to us.
It is also the season that Abe finally realised that all the patriarchal posturings led him to never look at his daughter for the zealous, brave soul she always had been. That moment of realisation, where something shifts within him and his whole view of culture, is as illuminating a fatherly portrait as one can get. It’s buoyed by reason and truth. Ditto for the deepening bonds between Joel and Midge, their looks at each other, conversational ease breeding the familial ties of two people who don’t have to be together to know they are soulmates in the real sense of the word.
From calling out Gordon Ford, a composite of seemingly jolly but innately egoistic entertainment figures, being the only woman among the writing staff of a nationally popular late-night show to finally landing her moment in the spotlight, moving on to the main stage from sundry others that she had ruled or even bombed in, this was it.
The final episode is everything. Sheer perfection of mood, treatment, poetic justice for a patient go-getter who broke the mould. Always. Without relinquishing her human impulses, flaws and innate nature. She just couldn’t lie and was certainly not going to lie down after years of almost getting her breakthroughs.
The audience’s reception, her delivery, the whole brand of kinetic physical comedy from Abe and Rose to hail a cab in time for the show to Susie’s sigh of relief, this was what we yearned for: a real breakthrough and it came beautifully.
Ditto the final exchange between Midge and Susie in the 2000s. The camaraderie, the laughter, the lifetime remained as appealing and as steadfast. Thank you and Good Night.