Shyam Benegal, one of the most influential directors of Indian Cinema, has brought radical change through his pioneering work in films since his career began. Here are ten of his best works that speak volumes about issues faced by Indian society then and now.
1. Ankur (1974):
In his directorial debut that depicts a true story that occurred in Hyderabad, Benegal analyzes the irony of human behavior and addresses important issues of the time such as feudalism and sexual oppression. The movie is a product of Indian Parallel Cinema and won 3 National Awards. It marked the debut of actors Anant Nag and Shabana Azmi, both of whom went on to become powerful dramatic actors in Indian Cinema.
2. Nishant (1975):
Girish Karnad, Shabana Azmi,
Naseeruddin Shah, Anant Nag,
This National Award winner is a stark depiction of the feudal tyranny, fascism, and sexual exploitation that existed in rural India those days, when people were scared to fight for justice against the elite, and those in power remained superior. The second movie in Benegal’s trilogy, which consists of Ankur, Nishant, and Manthan, this film received much deserved critical acclaim and was awarded a Golden Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival.
3. Manthan (1976):
Starring: Smita Patil, Girish Karnad, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri
Set amidst Verghese Kurien’s White Revolution in India, this movie is the story of how an activist tries to give power to the people of an impoverished Gujarati village by encouraging them to form cooperative societies to sell their milk. This film was a pioneering one for depicting the power of collectivism and social equality. It is also known to be a great cinematic treat.
4. Bhumika (1977):
Starring: Smita Patil,
Amol Palekar, Anant Nag, Naseeruddin Shah, Amrish Puri
This film is one of Shyam Benegal’s most impactful works and tells the story of the famous Marathi actress
Hansa Wadkar and the various men in her life as she transforms from an immature teenager to a wiser woman through her scars. This winner of two National Awards is known to be one of the director’s most alluring and unconventional works.
5. Trikal ( 1985):
Leela Naidu, Naseeruddin Shah,
This slice-of-life comedy revolves around a Christian family settled in Portuguese ruled Goa and their lives as it transitions into a district governed by India. This film is known for its brilliant cinematography and Leela Naidu’s performance.
6. Junoon (1978):
Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal,
Nafisa Ali, Shabana Azmi,
Deepti Naval, Naseeruddin Shah
This critically acclaimed film based on Ruskin Bond’s A Flight to Remember tells the story of the forbidden love between a married Indian man and a British lady during the freedom struggle. This movie is known for its beautiful shots and award-winning soundtrack, with a performance to remember by Shabana Azmi.
7. Mandi (1983):
Starring: Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah,
Depicting the lives of the whores in a brothel in Hyderabad, this film is based on a famous Urdu short story and poses as a satire on the culture of prostitution and politics. The movie is a well-acted cinematic treat and, like many other of this director’s films won a National Award.
8. Susman (1987):
Starring: Shabana Azmi,
Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Neena Gupta
Susman brings to the spotlight the struggle of the rural handloom weavers in Andhra Pradesh as rapid industrialization had started to take place. The movie features an iconic performance by Om Puri, who had practiced weaving on a handloom for months before shooting his scenes.
9. Kalyug (1981):
Starring: Shashi Kapoor,
Raj Babbar, Anant Nag, Rekha,
Supriya Pathak, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Sushma Seth Shyam Benegal portrays the conflicts and rivalry between two large Indian business families in what is a modern-day version of the Mahabharata. With an elaborate cast and innovative screenplay, this film shows how going against morality leads to ultimate destruction.
10. Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992):
Rajit Kapur, Neena Gupta,
Rajeshwari Sachdev, Amrish Puri
This movie is another one of Benegal’s works that are based on Hindi literature and tells the story of a man and the three women in the different stages of his life. With an abstractness portrayed in an unpretentious manner, this movie is one of Shyam Benegal’s best.