By Radhika Bhirani
Lonavla: The “extraordinary” life of Mother Teresa, who worked relentlessly for the upliftment of the destitute and who will be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, must be brought alive on the silver screen, says India’s acclaimed veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal.
Last year, an announcement was made that Benegal had given his consent to helm a movie on the iconic nun who came from Albania to India in 1929 and set up Missionaries of Charity in 1948.
“Nobody had asked me to do it… There was a suggestion, but not now… It was when I was making a film on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I was in Calcutta that time and some people from Missionaires of Charity had even come and met me,” Benegal told IANS in an interview here at the debut edition of the Lonavla International Film Festival India (LIFFI).
The 81-year-old Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner said a project on an icon of Mother Teresa’s magnitude would have required a lot of money as it has to be an “international film”.
“It has to not just be for our people (Indians), but for people of different cultures, particularly Europeans and Americans… A film like that needs loosening of purse strings,” he said and stressed that “she does deserve a proper feature film”.
There have been movies on Mother Teresa in the past — in 2003, there was a documentary, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta” — made by Fabrizio Costa of Italy; in 1987, Richard Attenborough turned narrator for a documentary on Mother Teresa; and in 1997, the “Mother Teresa: In The Name of God’s Poor” docu-drama was released.
In recent times, the 2014 movie “The Letters” explored her life through letters she wrote to her longtime friend and spiritual advisor Father Celeste van Exem over a 50-year period.
But a movie on Mother Teresa is yet to see the light of the day in Bollywood, where biopics have newfound popularity.
Would Benegal — whose epochal films “Ankur”, “Nishant”, “Manthan” and “Bhumika” set the tone for alternate cinema in India in 1970s — consider making it?
“At the moment, it is very difficult to say because my mind is working in different areas, different space. But Mother Teresa is a fascinating person. Not only is she a fascinating person, she led an extraordinary life.
“Coming from a different religion from Albania, where the majority of people who live are not even Christians, they are Muslims… And how she became what she became over a period of time.
“It requires not only a great amount of strength and will, but immense compassion,” said the filmmaker, who has been conferred a Padma Shri and a Padma Bhushan by the government for his contribution to Indian cinema.
Benegal’s tryst with biographical work has seen him make a documentary on the life of legendary auteur Satyajit Ray; “The Making of the Mahatma”, a film on the early life of the Father of the Nation; and “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero”, a movie on the Indian independence leader.