Shyam Benegal: The common man`s filmmaker

Updated: Aug 08, 2007, 00:00 AM IST

The father of so called ‘middle cinema’ of Bengali, Shyam Benegal was born on 14th December, 1934 in Alwal, Andhra Pradesh. An advertising professional, Benegal turned to cinema with his debutant Gher Betha Ganga in 1962. His flirtation with fame began with Ankur in 1973, the movie that introduced Shabana Azami.

After Ankur he left a trail of successful movies. Nishant (1975), Manthan (1976) and Bhumika (1977), were beautiful and artistic movies that took the box office by storm. His works were duly recognized by the Indian government and he was awarded with Padma Sree in 1976 and Padma Bhushan in 1991.Known as the maker of sensitive films which made a deep and abiding impact on the audience, Benegal is credited with giving several gems to Indian cinema like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Amrish Puri -many of whom were fresh pass outs from FTII and NSD.

While Ankur is memorable for its engrossing details of rural life and its exposure of the brutal feudal system, Nishant revolves around the life and tragedies of a teacher and his wife. Manthan, on the other hand is set against the backdrop of Gujarat`s fledgling dairy industry. Taking common man as his subject and addressing problems and tragedies of the commoner, Benegal has been able to make the ordinary man next door, his hero.

His other ambitious films were –Junoon that was set against the turbulent background of the Mutiny of 1857, Kalyug, a complex narrative based on the Mahabharat and Bhumika, an individual`s search for identity and self-fulfillment.

With the collapse of the New Cinema in 1980s, Benegal turned to television and made unparallel soaps like Yatra (1986) , and Bharat ek Khoj (1988) a serial based on Nehru`s Discovery of India-one of the biggest projects undertaken by any director.

Committed deeply to the cause of social integration, Benegal was a part of the National Integration Council (1986-89) and the National Council of Arts. His films still continue to be great entertainment package for the viewers and have won accolades the world over. The core subjects of his films have been varied in nature but they mainly center around contemporary Indian experience. Problems of development and social change appear on many levels as a continuing thread in practically all his films.

Benegal, the thinker and philosopher of Indian cinema and the receiver of this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke Award is one of the greatest contributors to the ‘quality cinema’ of Indian Film Industry and his immense contribution to Hindi cinema is immeasurable by any terms.

Phalke award not the end of line: Shyam Benegal

Overwhelmed at being given the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award, noted film-maker Shyam Benegal on Wednesday said although it was a lifetime achievement award, for him the "show must go on".

"This award is a lifetime achievement award. I am overwhelmed by the award and also feel slightly saddened because it is like saying this is the end of the line. But the show must go on," he said soon after his name was announced for the award.

Benegal, who has won national and international acclaims for films like `Ankur`, `Nishant`, `Manthan`, `Bhumika`, `Kondura`, `Junoon`, `Kalyug` and `Mandi`, told agencies film-making was more than just winning awards.

"Winning an award is one aspect of the film-making. But you don`t make films only to win awards. Rather you want it to be seen and enjoyed by the people. And the sense you can provide them through your films," he said.

To a question that not many of his films have been able to earn commercial success, he said, "You make choice of films...Sometimes the kind of choices you make are not sure of success and sometimes there is something ... Then life is all about making choices." On the controversy surrounding the National Film Awards, he said, "that is a bit unfortunate. I find that it tends to mar its prestige. I don`t think that is particularly nice to do that. You have chosen the jury so let the jury do whatever it decides."

Bureau Report