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Exclusive: Shyam Benegal on the Commonwealth Games

Last updated on: October 11, 2010 12:36 IST

'This is the biggest event in Independent India'


Decision-making in the government is a painful affair, film director Shyam Benegal, one of the masterminds behind last week's Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, tells's Patcy N.
Behind Bharat Bala, the creative director of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, was a three-man creative committee compromising film director Shyam Benegal, film lyricist Javed Akhtar and advertising personality and film lyricist Prasoon Joshi.

Shyam Benegal reveals what went into getting this mega show ready:

The group of ministers overseeing the Commonwealth Games decided that the opening and closing ceremonies should be anchored by a creative group.

This creative group consists of four people -- Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi, Bharat Bala and me.

We were there to conceptualise the show, which we did over several brainstorming sessions in different parts of India. We got artists and creative people from all over the country together, and from these sessions emerged the programme.

After it was approved by the group of ministers, we designated Bala to creatively direct the show.

Prasoon, Javed and I were not professionally involved. It was not our responsibility to execute the show.

To execute the show you need to be paid. That is why we designated Bala.

Image: A colourful scene from the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony


'We took everything from every state in our country'

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Bala, along with event management company Wizcraft, under Viraf Sarkari, had to coordinate with the organising committee.
The organising committee had several members with creative leanings like IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer Shovana Narayan, who is an Kathak dancer.

All of them were eventually responsible for the show.

The concept was our input: How the show should begin, how it would proceed and the elements in it.

We took everything from every state in our country.

There was Rhythms of India; there was a segment on what India has given to the world, like yoga; the Tree of Knowledge showed our guru shishya parampara; we had segments on India's past and present, the Great Indian Journey via the Indian Railways, Indian folk art, Mumbai's dabbawallas and many more things that are quintessentially Indian.

All of this culminated in a performance of the theme song, composed and sung by A R Rahman.

Image: The Commonwealth Games had brilliant spectacle

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'Maestros from different art forms brought together the best performers of the country'

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Maestros from different art forms brought together the best performers of the country.

For Kathak we had Birju Maharaj; Sonal Mansingh brought the Bharata Natyam contingent, likewise Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Odissi dancers were brought by their masters.

We started working on the event just some days ahead of the show.

We should have had more time, but unfortunately decision taking and the manner in which decisions are taken in the government is a long painful affair.

This problem was especially faced by the people executing the show.

Many approvals and clearances are required when you have 7,000 performers from across the country.

There are security requirements, including getting police reports so that you know you are not allowing anybody who is either a potential criminal or a terrorist.

All these things take time.

Image: Dancers at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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'The performers got such an adrenal rush that they performed brilliantly'

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Even the venues were not ready, and then the rains came.

Everybody was rehearsing at the Army parade grounds in Delhi, but the unseasonable rains this year preventing that from time to time.

They were rehearsing off and on for about four weeks before the event, but that's not enough.

We had only one dress rehearsal.

You require much more for such a mega event; this is the biggest event that has taken place in Independent India.

That is why we were all on tenterhooks.

Fortunately, it went well.

It also went well because the public supported it.

The support was palpable and powerful.

The performers got such an adrenal rush that they performed brilliantly.

Such things happen when you get audience support.

Image: Performers at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
Photographs: Tim Wimborne/Reuters
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'For the closing ceremony, the theme is about India facing tomorrow'

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I am happy with the final outcome. But for any person who conceptualises something there is always something that can be bettered.

The master chef always feels thodi mirchi kaam hai yaa namak zyada hogaya (the chilies should have been a little more, or the salt a little less) so those things are always there.

Creative differences are always there. Creative people will always be different from one another.

How can you be the same?

If you are not different, you are not creative.

But overall it went off well.

For the closing ceremony, the theme is about India facing tomorrow.

We are looking ahead, but I don't want to divulge too much.

Every good thing should have a bit of a surprise.

Image: Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra leads the Indian contingent
Photographs: Reuters
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