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Was asked not to copy Mujib, but understand his philosophy : Bangladeshi actor Shuvoo

Kolkata: Bangladeshi actor Arifin Shuvoo, who is playing the title role in the biopic Mujib: The Making of a Nation, said he was asked by the movie’s director Shyam Benegal to understand the ‘father of Bangladesh’s philosophy’ instead of merely copying his mannerisms.

The 41-year-old actor, who had essayed critically acclaimed roles in films like Mission Extreme (2021), Dhaka Attack (2017), Musafir (wanderer) and Chaya Chobi (The Movie), among others, told PTI the “overwhelming appreciation for the film since its release in Bangladesh on October 13”, makes him feel “the hard work during the last three years to perfect the role” has paid off.

Shuvoo told PTI, “I was repeatedly told by Benegal sir that I am not Mujib” to help him overcome any mental reservations about playing the role of a man who was still larger than life as the maker of modern Bangladesh, having led that nation to independence and served as its leader till his assassination in August 1975.

“He told me that I don’t have to copy him externally. I have to grasp his philosophy, his dreams, his wishes and his frustrations. I had to portray the person who not only became ‘Bangabandhu’ (Friend of Bangladesh), the honorary pre-fix by which Mujib is known in his country but was also ‘Khoka’ (young boy) and ‘Mujib Bhai'(Mujib brother) in his younger days,” Shuvoo said.

The much-awaited biopic sketching the life of Sheikh Mujib as an anti-government revolutionary to the political leader who steered his people towards independence was released earlier this month in Bengali and Hindi.

The movie revolves around Sheikh Mujib’s pivotal role in the fight for freedom but at the same time seamlessly stitches together a narrative of deep commitment towards family and friends, capturing moments of joy, love, as well as sorrow against the backdrop of the freedom movement which gave birth to Bangladesh.

Shuvoo said since the release of the film in Bangladesh on October 13, “the audience is loving it … apparently they are okay with my portrayal of Mujib, a true leader of masses who had led us during the 1971 war.”

Asked about the preparations which went on after he was selected by Benegal for the role, Shuvoo said, “The preparations were huge – from reading books, to seeing black and white footage of Bangabandhu, discussions about his family life and political career with his family – apart from long sessions with my director about the real-life person and how he perceived that person.”

Recalling his shooting experience under Benegal, he said “he does not believe in cuts and prefers taking a single shot at a go – say from 10 angles through 10 lenses – and the best shot is included in the film”.

Asked how he felt portraying the character of an icon, the actor said, “My father was a freedom fighter and I used to hear about Bangabandhu since childhood. How he inspired a whole nation, his sacrifices, everything. I had in the past been to Sheikh Sahab’s house in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi area which has now become a museum. So it was not my first visit to the place for a shoot or research. But then I had gone as an ordinary visitor and was not privy to many unknown or lesser-known facts.”

Talking about one such incident, he said “I was told that Indira Gandhi (then Indian Prime Minister) had called up Mujib days before he was gunned down in August 1975 cautioning him about a conspiracy against him and suggesting he shift from his Dhanmondi official residence to ‘Ganobhavan’ for safety.

“But Bangabandhu replied to the Indian Prime Minister, Pakistan could not kill me in all these years, and now I am with my own people. Why should my men do anything to me?,” Shuvoo said referring to some facts which have never been made public.

Shuvoo said he was sure the people of West Bengal will connect with the film, in the same way as the people of Bangladesh as “there are no cultural differences between the audiences in the two parts of Bengal.”

Asked about Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina’s reaction to the film, he said, “People are asking this question, but tell me how will you feel if your entire family is wiped out point blank on a nigh? If you were to see this before your eyes even on celluloid,would it not impact you”

“She (Hasina) was clearly overwhelmed, there was tears in her eyes, she asked me how could you enact this scene in such a way” he recalled. Shuvoo said he considered it as his good fortune that a director of Benegal’s stature, who had moulded actors of the calibre of Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil, chose him for the title role in the official biopic of Mujib.

“He (Benegal) is 88 years old, but his energy level, memory, everything is amazing,” said the actor.

(Published 28 October 2023, 14:13 IST)

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