NEW DELHI: Film director Shyam Benegal says historical narrative is never still but constantly telescoped by hindsight and contemporary conditions but, “there is however, no debate on Sardar Patel, his position was very clear on every major ideological and economic issue, and is best illustrated in Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of him.” The veteran director was principal advisor to director Ketan Mehta who helmed the biopic, Patel, on India’s first home minister.
Recently returned from Paris, Benegal has walked right into the controversy over the ownership of Patel’s legacy, a controversy he says, “which ought not to be. While it is true that Sardar Patel was not a Socialist like Jawaharlal Nehru, this difference in economic outlook cannot be used as a handle to appropriate Patel by the political Right.”
“I understand that Sardar Patel is a powerful figure and his principal contribution to the country, of political and administrative consolidation is attractive to certain ideologies, but despite subjectivity being a part of history writing, he cannot be appropriated,” he told ET.
Benegal was the first choice of the late HM Patel, finance minister in the Morarji Desai government and former home and finance secretary in the first few years after Independence to direct a biopic on Sardar Patel. HM Patel had served as home secretary under Sardar Patel and worked closely with him while he handled Kashmir and other sensitive issues. “I had worked with his daughter and he got in touch with me. At that time I was shooting The Making of the Mahatma, therefore Ketan Mehta was roped in, I was brought on as advisor and the late Vijay Tendulkar wrote the script and screenplay,” he said. That exercise, he says clarified Patel’s legacy. “After Rajmohan Gandhi’s comments, I do not think there is any space for all this controversy,” he added. Benegal says that history can be problematic because it is subjective and objective at the same time.
“There is no such way as an absolutely correct interpretation or re-interpretation of history… In Sardar Patel’s case there are copious accounts and Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of the Sardar has been meticulously researched,” he said.