The Making of Benegal

Just the other day A was telling me that we in India did not give Shyam Benegal the recognition he deserved. Yesterday’s announcement that he has been honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke award should make her and us happy.

For many of us who had been exposed to and in fact got to study the New Wave cinema movement, Benegal is said to be the most likely successor to Satyajit Ray and also a pioneer of the ‘middle cinema’. I do not agree with either assessment. Benegal’s early films were primarily rural and wholly political. Who can forget Ankur, Nishant and Manthan?

My favourite Benegal films, though, are Bhumika and Mammo, the former based on the life of a Marathi film actress. How deliciously he recreated the era and all the characters that dotted the turbulent life of Hansa Wadkar.

Mammo dealt with the Indo-Pak conflict through the emotional prism of its protagonist when she makes the journey from Pakistan to meet her sisters and her return ‘home’. This was in many ways un-Benegal like, but rarely has a film dealt so subtly with a subject of contemporary history.

That has been Benegal. A strong political undercurrent running through most of his work but conveyed with sensitivity. Many have not liked Samar, thought it was trying too hard, but I felt that he dealt with the issue of Dalits without huffing and puffing over it, using the simple device of a film within a film to show how the scourge of untouchability even besets the liberals. The sympathy towards the character versus the attitude towards the actor were rather wonderful swipes.

The films he directed for Shashi Kapoor were again a departure from what one might expect, but only just. Junoon had the backdrop the 1857 revolt; Kalyug transposed the Mahabharata to the contemporary environment.

Suraj Ka Saatwaan Ghoda, Mandi, Trikaal all had their moments. Personally I feel he was out of his depth with Sardari Begum and most certainly Zubeida.

Shabana Azmi wasn’t the best thing Benegal discovered. It was Smita Patil, starting with a small part in Nishant and going on to reveal her wonderful combination of smouldering sensuality and vulnerability in Manthan, Bhumika and Mandi.

His biopics include those on Satyajit Ray, Nehru and Bose, but I particularly liked The Making of the Mahatma.

What I would love to see from Benegal now is a story on the absurd political and social climate of Uttar Pradesh and the hype that comes with the baggage of the Amar Singh-Bachchan clique.


  1. Farzana... I thought you were a reservior of knowledge/information looks like the reservior is deeper than the deepest ocean.

  2. Farzana... I thought you were a reservior of knowledge/information looks like the reservior is deeper than the deepest ocean.

  3. blog
    Never heard this name.Do you suggest watching these movies?

  4. I had already seen Mandi and Manthan but when a friend and I got some movies with Amrish Puri upon hearing of his passing, I got to see more Benegal, and I agree with what you say about Smita Patil.

    Have yet to see Mammo. Will put it on my list. I'm really pleased that he received the Dadasaheb Phalke as well. MubarakbadiyaaN!

    And yes, what I know of his films has focused more on the rural and the political, without being over(t)ly what's the word, ummm, hammering you over the head?

    (Not entirely related to this, but I was amazed and excited to see a Ritwak Ghatak video at one of the local video shops. I remember you had recommended him to me a while back. Will let you know which one, and what I think of it if I am successful in viewing it)

  5. Circle:

    As a first-timer, I would definitely suggest you watch Mammo, then Mandi and Junoon...it will give a broad idea. If you like his work, then move on to others...

    He also directed a wonderful TV series 'Discovery of India' based on Nehru's book.
    - - -

    The Ghatak film that made a deep impact on me was 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' (cloud-covered star); it also somehow defines him.
    - - -

    I just happen to have fairly good taste in cinema...and if I like something I go out of my way to understand where it came from and how it will develop.


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