Shyam Benegal: A pioneer of parallel cinema still going strong

Insight Online News

New Delhi, Dec 15 : One of India’s greatest filmmakers and screenwriters, Shyam Benegal, a pioneer of parallel cinema, continues to go strong as he readies to release his upcoming film ‘Bangabandhu’ based on the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.

Benegal, who turned 87 on Tuesday, started out as a copywriter in a Mumbai-based agency. He made his first documentary in Gujarati, “Gher Betha Ganga” in 1962, and eventually after several stints he made his feature film directorial debut in 1974 with “Ankur”, which was a critical and commercial success with the movie often being said to possess the traits of a Satyajit Ray film.

This was followed by “Nishant” (1975), “Manthan” (1976), “Bhumika” (1977), “Junoon” (1978), “Kalyug” (1981) and others, with each being a success and making Benegal a pioneer in the wave of Parallel cinema. “Manthan” was financed by 500,000 dairy farmers of Gujarat, who contributed Rs 2 each.

A fact that made Benegal different from other filmmakers was that unlike most New Wave Indian directors, Benegal possessed private financial backing for years which enabled him to survive the collapse of the New Cinema in the late 1980s due to decline in interest in art films.

He also directed TV serials such as “Yatra” (1986) for the Indian Railways and “Bharat Ek Khoj” (1988) based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s book, ‘The Discovery of India’. This further continued in the 90s, with his various cinematic ventures such as “Mammo” (1994), “Sardari Begum” (1996), and in 2001 he made his first association with Bollywood with the film “Zubeidaa”.

In 1996 he made his venture into biographical material with “The Making of the Mahatma” which was focused on Mahatma Gandhi beginning from Gandhi’s journey in South Africa. He then directed the 2004 India epic biographical war film “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose- The Forgotten Hero”, focused on the complex life of Indian independence revolutionary leader Subhas Chandra Bose, his life in Nazi Germany, formation of the Azad Hind Fauj. The film received widespread critical acclaim for its sublime blend of story telling without twisting and altering of real events.

In 2008 he released the comedy movie “Welcome to Sajjanpur”, another of his few Bollywood films which received positive reviews. He made his last movie in 2010, with “Well Done Abba”, which was a political Hindi satire, and received highly positive reviews.
He was awarded the highest award in Indian cinema for lifetime achievement, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2005). He has several National Film Awards, a Filmfare Award and a Nandi Award.

In 1976, he was awarded the Padma Shri, and in 1991, with the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian honour for his contributions in the field of arts.

The film “Bangabandhu”, is a co-production between the National Film Development Corporation and the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation. The biopic has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is expected to be released in March next year.

Shabana Azmi, who starred in “Ankur”, in a tweet wished him: “Happy birthday #Shyam Benegal.Had it not been for you and #Ankur my career would have gone on a different trajectory. You have been a friend, mentor and teacher and I will remain eternally thankful for your presence in my life. Bahut saara pyar.”

Actor Manoj Bajpayee tweeted: “Happy birthday Shyam Benegal babu !!! My experience of working with you was immensely educational and learned a great deal about stories cinema and Politics!!! Thank you for all the love & affection!!!”


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