Understanding Shyam Benegal’s work

Most of the fans feel that either spectacular ‘Trikal’ or incredible ‘Ankur’ is closest to his heart. He is Shyam Benegal. But he informs us with an unheard information – ‘Mandi’ is closest to my heart’. He said so the documentary serial ‘Benegal@work’ conceived and directed by television serial maker Suparna Chakravarty.

 suparna with shyam

Benegal invited Ashok Mehta as cinematographer of ‘Mandi’ as his regular Gobinda Nihlani was busy in some other project. He decided to work with Ashok Mehta and discussed with him for several hour on the style and visual character of his proposed film. He was a die-hard fan of the cinematography of Eastern European films. He sent Ashok Mehta to FTII of Pune and told him to study the lighting style of those films.’Ashok returned from Pune and he has did the lighting of Mandi in a very different style and that style was his own.’ The visual beauty of Mandi is still bright, colourful, magnificent and a text book for the students of cinematography.


While Benegal, one of the brightest star in world of advertising film has stepped into the world of silver screen, no one has ever imagined that one day that ‘Ankur’(seed) will be grown up as a huge tree. And a long procession will start their march from the shadow of that tree holding the proud flag of Indian film.


The advertising world is a huge arrangement of glitz and glamour with a motive to sell dreams and hopes. The successful merchant of the world with an experience of nine hundred ad films, Benegal has made his first feature film Ankur with the theme of suppression and pain of rural India where he had not find a place for glamour. Ankur was a true mirror of the tortured mind of a peasant struggling with the slavery. The story was simple, narrative was simple, camera moved in a simple way but it was heavy with feelings and understanding. And of course there was a ray of hope, a voice of protest brought by his next generation.


There were so many made Indian Films on farmer’s life including Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ prior to Ankur and some of them had added feathers to the hat of Indian Film, but Ankur was a great break from that tradition. Benegal had keep aside the stars and songs from his film and made Ankur as a realistic film.


He had directed several unforgettable films and introduced and established a big group of excellent acting artiste. He had provided ample scope, space and opportunities to the actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Ila Arun even to Rekha and Karishma Kapoor too and all of them proved that. He had clear conception of ‘film-acting’ and he had the capacity to bring out ‘non-theatrical acting’ from the graduates from NSD and at the same time he had also moulded the stars from Bollywood Commercial film like Sashi Kapoor, Amol Palekar, Rekah, Karishma Kapoor as he wanted for his realistic films. Shyam’s concept of Film Acting has been regarded as a great model of Film acting for realistic film and was followed by the next generation film makers.


The satellite channel Zee Classic has came out with a film festival of selected films by Shyam Benegal. They had produced a series of documentaries on those films and the series was titled as ‘Benegal@work’. The interview based series has provided the viewers lots of valuable information and back stories related to those films and working style, thought process and other creative aspects of the celebrated film maker. And Shyam was being re-discovered with that series.


Suparna Chakravarty has planned and produced the series. She is a computer engineer, a Hindustani classical singer and a television programme producer with specialization in music base serials. But film was always in her mind and right now she is busy in a screenplay for Subhas Ghai’s Mukta Films.


Utpal Datta is a National Film award-winning film critic, who was associated with Bismoi, an entertainment Assamese magazine, Rangghar – cultural monthly and Roopkar Cultural Monthly. He later joined  the All India Radio, where his book 24 Frames (2008), an anthology of articles on Indian Cinema, was released as a radio programme.