BBorn in 1934 as Vangala Shyam Sundar Rao in Andhra Pradesh, Shyam Benegal originated what has come to be called "middle cinema". He was initially involved in the advertising industry and produced over 900 advertisements before his interest turned to films. His first feature film in Hindi, Ankur tells the story of an arrogant urban youth who returns to his ancestral home in feudal Andhra Pradesh. His subsequent affair with the wife of one of his laborers (played powerfully by Shabhana Azmi in her debut) and her eventual call to arms against the feudal system brought him criticism for using a purportedly "un-Indian" approach in his films and also for "victimizing" women. The film unquestionably had the merit of bringing the problem of feudal and patriarchal structures to the fore. In 1969 he received a special fellowship to study operations of the Children's Television Workshop in New York. Later he did a brief stint as a TV producer in Boston. Benegal did not direct his first feature film, The Seedling (1973), until he was 40. Since then he has become a popular director in India, noted for creating films sensitive to the role of women in Indian societies. His films are also gaining international recognition and acclaim.
Nishant (Night's End, 1975), starring Shabhana Azmi, is in some sense a continuation of Ankur. Again sexual exploitation of women is used to bring out the evils of feudal oppression. Manthan (The Churning, 1976) was financed in the most unusual manner, in that 500,000 members of the milk co-operatives in Gujarat each donated Rs. 2 towards the production of the film. This was truly a people's enterprise. In this film, Shyam Benegal introduces a westernized doctor to a village who sparks off an uprising of the local untouchables. The doctor is also attracted to a local woman, and consequently Benegal is once again able to explore the nexus of sex and power. Benegal was to explore the roles to which women are confined in Indian society in Bhumika (The Role, 1976), where he reveals the highly ambivalent attitudes of Indian society when it comes to letting a woman assert herself independently. The film is based on the autobiography of the Marathi/Hindi actress Hansa Wadkar, deftly played by Smita Patil.
Benegal's diversity of producers is actually a reflection of the diversity of his films. But through this wide variety of themes - rural exploitation, development of workers' co-operatives, the feudalism in industrial or royal families, to give some examples - there is a discernible common thread. That thread is about change.
Whichever film you look at, you see Shyam Benegal's pre-occupation with the cataclysmic forces which are taking India from tradition to modernity, from a deeply conservative, rigidly hierarchical society to a more open, democratic and egalitarian one.
For many years, Benegal's films were associated with grim representations of Indian realities, and the same set of characters appeared in many of his films and those associated with the New Indian Cinema: the oppressive landlord, the corrupt official, the hypocritical politician, the subjugated tribal woman, the struggling villager, and so on. But Benegal has always had wider interests, and in Kalyug he attempted to give the Mahabharata a modern interpretation by representing the dispute within a large business family. Moreover, the films of recent years show his lively engagement with questions of narrativity. The same experiment in narration is witnessed, though less successfully, in Sardari Begum (1996), which is said to be a fictional exploration or representation of the life of the great vocalist, Begum Akhtar.
During the 1980s, when Indian New Wave cinema witnessed a collapse, Benegal turned his attention to an upcoming mass media, the television. He produced the teleserial Bharath Ek Khoj (1988) for Doordarshan, based on Jawaharlal Nehru's 'Discovery of India'. Which even after two decades stands as one of the best teleserials produced in India He is also a respected documentary film-maker, and his most recent endeavor in this direction is a cinematic study of the early years of Gandhi in South Africa: thus the Making of the Mahatma. He has also taught at the Film and Television Institute in Pune and continues to be an influential presence in Indian film circles. He returned to feature filmmaking after a gap of almost six years and has since been making features regularly but with mixed results, Suraj ka Saatwaan Ghoda (1992) and Samar (1998) particularly standing out in this period. The former, based on Dharmveer Bharati's well known novella, focuses on a bachelor who recounts over two evenings to a group of his friends, the stories of three women who came into his life at different periods of time. Rich in texture, it becomes abundantly clear that more than love stories; they are reflections on shifting social values, indeed an individual's growing up.A pioneer of the new cinema in India, Shyam Benegal has been considered as the leading film-makers of the country ever since his first feature film, ANKUR was released. His films have been seen and acclaimed widely not only in India but in international film festivals for the last twenty-five years. The core subjects of his films have been varied in nature but mainly centered on contemporary Indian experience. Problems of development and social change appear on many levels as a continuing thread in practically all his films. Apart from fiction features, he has made a number of documentaries on different subjects ranging from cultural anthropology and problems of industrialization, to music and so on. His work on television consists of several popular series based on international short stories, by well-known Indian writers and a mammoth 53 part series on the history of India. He has also made an extra-mural educational series for children.
Shyam Benegal taught mass-communication techniques between 1966 and 1973 and later took an active role in shaping film education as Chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India during 1980-83 and 1989-92. As a person deeply committed to social integration in India, Shyam Benegal was a part of the National Integration Council (1986-89) and the National Council of Arts. The Government of India has conferred on him two of its most prestigious awards PADMA SHRI (1976) & PADMA BHUSHAN(1991).
Shyam Benegal's career started with a job as a copy writer in advertising from where he graduated to become the creative and accounts and group head before becoming a full time film maker. He has lectured in many institutions in India and abroad as well as participated in seminars on subjects dealing with Cinema, Television, Information Technology and different aspects of social and cultural changes.
Practically all his films have won national awards and several of them have been awarded internationally. He was a Homi Bhabha Fellow (1970-72) during which time, he studied children's television and work for a few months as an Associate producer with WGBH Boston, USA and devoted sometime with the Children's Television Workshop in New York. Shyam Benegal runs a film production company in Mumbai called Shyam Benegal Sahyadri Films.
Shyam Benegal entered the arena of the Hindi film industry with his first feature film, Ankur which was widely appreciated by the masses & the critics and was also felicitated with prestigious awards. Benegal laments the decay in the parallel cinema movement in India. He feels that in the modern day market driven by global commitments, the loss of art work in cinema could have more to do with lack of right packaging and market management then the viability of its content. But then these thoughts could be wishful thinking of a die-hard optimist.
On 31st October Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh conferred on Benegal the Indira Gandhi Award For National Integration for his role in strengthening the values of society.Since then there has been no looking back for this immensely talented director. Till date, he has created an array of thought provoking films that catapulted Indian talent in the international platform of film industry.
Films he made/associated with: ·
Ankur (1973) ·
Charandas Chor (1975) ·
Nishant (1975) ·
Manthan (1976) ·
Bhumika (1976) ·
Kondura (1977) ·
Junoon (1978) ·
Kalyug (1980) ·
Aarohan (1982) ·
Mandi (1983) ·
Trikaal (1985) ·
Antarnaad (1992) ·
Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda (1992) ·
Mammo (1994) ·
Hari Bhari · Sardari Begum · Zubeida (2000)·
Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005)
“Mr. Benegal is an affable person with a great sense of humor, and that made it so much easier to talk to him. I wish I had taped him when checked my facts on some notes I had gathered. He is a great story-teller, and some interesting portions of his story remained untaped" says kamla batt who had a conversation/interview with shyam.