Keeping it actual: Shyam Benegal on retirement, change and his first film in 11 years

Shyam Benegal, 86, likes to joke that he’s at all times launched as a person who wants no introduction, a line that’s adopted by a prolonged introduction nonetheless. It’s true, and unavoidable. So right here goes: The filmmaker began his career 47 years in the past with Ankur (1974), a narrative a few Dalit couple and their upper-caste landlord that was Shabana Azmi’s debut function and is taken into account one of many best works of Hindi cinema.

Audiences would come to recognise and love Benegal’s craft by subsequent movies corresponding to Nishant (1975) and Manthan (1976), stark tales, startlingly actual, exquisitely lit, that adopted on a regular basis Indians as they struggled to be seen, heard, acknowledged.

His movies shone a lightweight on an India not often, if ever, seen on display. Mandi (1983), was the story of the residents of a Hyderabad brothel; Trikal (1985), of a Christian household in Goa over the past years of Portuguese rule. What made these motion pictures impactful and evocative was that, beneath the quiet realism, had been scathing takedowns of caste, class, disparity, India’s more and more capitalist society.

These are the extra public particulars of his work. What chances are you’ll not know, because the lengthy introduction continues to his dismay, is that the multi-award-winning Padmashri and Padma Bhushan continues to work out of the identical small office in Mumbai that he has occupied for 44 years, solutions his personal landline, and readily units apart time to speak about his craft.

He is at the moment capturing a Bengali film, Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal), a co-production by the governments of India and Bangladesh that tells the story of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh. The project has been deliberate to coincide with the centenary of Rahman’s start (2020), and the fiftieth anniversary of the start of Bangladesh (2021) and is due for launch later this year.

This is Benegal’s first film in 11 years, since Well Done Abba, a political satire a few Muslim man attempting to get his daughter married amid a rising drought disaster in his village. Why Bangabandhu? Is Benegal doing issues in another way? What does he make of the modifications in storytelling, the brand new platforms, methods and expertise? Excerpts from an interview.

What was it about Bangabandhu that drew you to this project?

Mujibur Rahman’s life is sort of a Shakespearean tragedy, from a younger chief and founding father of East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League to a key determine in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, to changing into the first president, to the brutal assassination of him and his household (he was killed at his residence in 1975, together with his spouse, three sons, two daughters-in-law, brother and nephew, throughout a navy coup). The story fascinated me. His was the type of story that makes for top tragedy. Even the way in which his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, escaped, as a result of they weren’t in the nation on the time.

His life story could be in comparison with a Shakespearian drama. He was passionate not solely about Bengali as a language however about making a Bengali nation. He gave his life for it.

It was an interesting journey for me and my writers, Atul Tiwari and Shama Zaidi, to find Mujibur Rahman from the assorted archives.

Are you doing something in another way, in this project? Do you concentrate on movie-making in another way, all these a long time on?

When you might be consuming a meal daily, do you cease and take into consideration the truth that you might be consuming? Movie-making is similar for me. I’m a filmmaker; that is what I do. When I began my career as a filmmaker virtually 50 years in the past, I used to consider be one. Now it’s like second nature. It’s like talking a language or writing. It comes naturally. How nicely you possibly can categorical your self by the artwork of cinema, that’s a continuing studying course of. Every filmmaker needs to be extra exact and lucid in his or her subsequent film. I’ve to continually hone my craft too.

What sorts of modifications has that concerned?

Technology has modified fully. I, as a filmmaker, need to study the brand new expertise as it comes, as these are one’s instruments of expression. When we shot on celluloid, the sorts of publicity had been adjusted manually. Now we don’t even want an publicity meter. It’s built-in, mechanically providing you with the proper of publicity.

But what if one doesn’t need the usual publicity it offers? The benefit of superior expertise is that it stops you from making a mistake. But a filmmaker may nonetheless not get the consequence they need. To get the consequence the way in which you need it, together with your particular person view of the article, it’s a must to transcend the usual and do it manually. All creative expression is subjective. We all need to transcend the usual goal view the expertise offers, to precise our personal view of issues.

Technological advances have modified methods of storytelling too. It lets you categorical your self in a extra exact method.

What’s subsequent for you?

At my age you don’t consider what’s subsequent; you do what greatest you possibly can proper in the intervening time. I’m attempting to make the most effective of any alternative that presents itself. I plan to work so long as I can. There’s no such factor as retirement. It doesn’t make any sense… Life will occur to you anyway. I take pleasure in life so long as I maintain in good well being and I plan to take pleasure in it for a very long time to return.


New to Benegal’s work? Start right here



Ankur (1974): Shyam Benegal’s debut function, and the feature-film debut of Shabana Azmi (above). She performs a married Dalit girl who has an affair with the upper-caste son of a village zamindar. Subtle, evocative, rooted in the actual, Ankur introduced Benegal as one of many pioneers of the new-wave motion of the ’70s.




Manthan (1976): A crowdfunded film financed by 500,000 farmers who donated 2 every. Starring Girish Karnad, Smita Patil (above, centre), Naseeruddin Shah and Amrish Puri, it was impressed by the milk cooperative motion led by Verghese Kurien, which resulted in the muse of Amul.


Bhumika (1977): Based on the Marathi memoir Sangtye Aika (You Ask, I Tell) of Forties stage and display actor Hansa Wadkar. This film is a type of basis course in a few of India’s best filmmaking. Smita Patil performs the flamboyant artist struggling to outline herself. The screenplay is co-written by Benegal and Girish Karnad, with cinematography by Govind Nihalani. Co-stars embody Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Amrish Puri.



Shashi Kapoor and Amrish Puri in Kalyug.

Kalyug (1981): Benegal obtained Shashi Kapoor to supply this retelling of the Mahabharata. Two industrial households, and cousins, compete for presidency contracts, affections, revenue and energy. There are layered performances by Kapoor, Rekha, Raj Babbar, Amrish Puri, Supriya Pathak and Anant Nag.


Mammo (1994): Farida Jalal performs a Muslim girl, Mammo, who turns into a Pakistani citizen after Partition however returns to India illegally, to her maternal house, after her husband dies. She is caught and despatched again to Pakistan on a practice. The film is poignant; Jalal is excellent.

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