Alwal, near Hyderabad, 14 December 1934.
Advertising copywriter and director (over 620 advertising shorts) for
Lintas Agency, Bombay, 1960–66; received Bhabha fellowship and
worked in U.S.; returned to India and became independent producer, 1970;
directed first feature in Hindi,
, 1974; director of the Indian National Film Development Corporation,
1980s; made TV mini-series
The Discovery of India
A Child of the Streets (doc short)
Close to Nature (doc short); Indian Youth—An Exploration (doc short); Sinhasta or The Path to Immortality (doc short)
Poovanam ( The Flower Path ) (doc short)
Horoscope for a Child (doc short)
Pulsating Giant (doc short); Steel: A Whole New Way of Life (doc short); Raga and the Emotions (doc short)
Tala and Rhythm (doc short); The Shruti and Graces of Indian Music (doc short); The Raag Yaman Kalyan (doc short); Notes on a Green Revolution (doc short); Power to the People (doc short); Foundations of Progress (doc short)
Ankur ( The Seedling ) (+ sc)
Learning Modules for Rural Children (doc)
Nishant ( Night's End ); Charandas Chor ( Charandas the Thief )
A Quiet Revolution (doc)
Manthan ( The Churning ); Tomorrow Begins Today ; Industrial Research (short); Epilepsy (short)
Bhumika ( The Role ) (+ co-sc); Kondura/Anugrahan (Telugu version) ( The Boon ) (+ co-sc); New Horizons in Steel (doc) Junoon ( The Obsession )
Hari Hondal Bargadar ( Share Cropper ) (+ sc)
Kalyug ( The Machine Age )
Arohan ( Ascending Scale )
Mandi ( The Market Place )
Jawaharlal Nehru (doc); Satyajit Ray (doc); Trikaal ( Past, Present, and Future ) (+sc)
Susman ( The Essence ) (+ p)
Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda
Apprenticeship of a Mahatma
The Churning , with Vijay Tendulkar, Calcutta, 1984.
Interview with Behroze Gandhy, in Framework (Norwich), no. 12, 1980.
Interview with F. El Guedj, in Cinématographe (Paris), September-October 1983.
Interview in Screen International (London), 13 December 1986.
da Cunha, Uma, editor, Film India: The New Generation 1960–1980 , New Delhi, 1981.
Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Gandhy, Indian Cinema , London, 1982.
Pfleiderer, Beatrix, and Lothar Lutze, The Hindi Film: Agent and ReAgent of Cultural Change , New Delhi, 1985.
Ramachandran, T.M., 70 Years of Indian Cinema (1913–1983) , Bombay, 1985.
Armes, Roy, Third-World Filmmaking and the West , Berkeley, 1987.
"Shyam Benegal," article and interview in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1975.
Dharker, Anil, "Shyam Benegal," in International Film Guide 1979 , London, 1978.
Posthumus, P., and T. Custers, "Film in India: interview—achtergrondon—Shyam Benegal," in Skrien (Amsterdam), Winter 1980/81.
Tesson, C., "La Route des Indes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1983.
Gillett, John, "Style and Passion: The Films of Shyam Benegal," in National Film Theatre Programme (London), May 1988.
Saran, S., "The Question of Influences," in Cinema in India , no. 12, 1991.
Denis, F., "Of Truth and Invention," in Cinema in India , no. 9, 1992.
Niogret, Hubert, and Françoise Audé, "Shyam Benegal: Bhumika," in Positif (Paris), October 1992.
Sen, M., "The Wonder Years," in In India , vol. 4, no. 3, 1993.
Cossio, C., "Il settimo cavallo del sole nel cinema indiano," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July-October 1995.
* * *
The career of Shyam Benegal, which began with his first feature in 1974, has some similarity in terms of both approach and tenacity to that of Satyajit Ray twenty years earlier. Among shared aspects one may note a background in the film society movement, a strong western influence, commercial work in an advertising agency, and direction of children's film (in Benegal's case the feature length Charandas the Thief , made in 1975 for the Children's Film Society). But Benegal was forty by the time he made his first feature and had already directed a large number of sponsored documentaries and commercials. Moreover, virtually all of his films have been in Hindi, the language of the commercial "all-India" movie, not in a regional dialect.
Benegal's personal style is already apparent and fully formed in the loose trilogy of studies of rural oppression made between 1974 and 1976: The Seedling, Night's End, and The Churning , the last financed collectively—at two rupees apiece—by the farmers of Gujarat state. In each case the interaction of the rural populace and often well-meaning outsiders ends disastrously, but the note of revolt is very muted. Though Benegal's social commitment is unquestionable, he does not offer any clear way out for his characters. In The Seedling , the seduction and abandoning of a servant girl is followed by the savage beating of her deaf-mute husband, but the only answer is the stone thrown at the landlord's house by a small boy in the film's final sequence. This is the "seedling," but Benegal offers no indication as to how it can be nurtured. In Night's End , a schoolmaster's efforts lead to violence when his wife is kidnapped by a landlord's family who are accustomed to exploiting and brutalizing peasants at will. But the final peasant revolt stirred up by the middle class hero gets totally and blindly out of hand, and one knows that it will be put down—no doubt savagely—by the authorities and that passivity will resume. The Churning is more optimistic, but even here the advocates of change are eventually defeated, though their efforts may some day bear fruit. Typical of Benegal's approach is the way in which women—so often a personification of new values in third world films—are depicted as passive suffering figures. Benegal's style is always solidly realistic, with stress on a carefully worked out narrative line and well-drawn characters. The pace is generally slow and measured but enlivened by excellent observation and fine choice of significant detail.
In the late 1970s, Benegal retained this somewhat austere style with a total professionalism but without ever slipping into the extravagance or melodrama of the conventional Hindi film. The Role , one of his richest films, tells of a more dynamic woman, a film star who tries desperately to live her own life but is cruelly exploited by men throughout her life. The film, essentially a problem picture of a kind familiar in the West, has a muted, open ending and is enlivened by vigorously recreated extracts from the films in which the actress is purported to star. Subsequently, Benegal continued the widening of his chosen area of subject matter. The Boon , a film shot in two language versions and known as Kondura in Hindi and Anugrahan in Telegu, is a study of the tragic effect of a young man's belief that he has been granted supernatural powers. The Obsession is a tale of interracial love set at the time of the Indian Mutiny, and The Machine Age is a story of bitter rivalry between industrialists—an archetypal conflict based on an ancient Hindi epic. But Ascending Scale , which depicts a peasant family destroyed as it is pitted against the reactionary forces of rural India, shows Benegal's fidelity to the themes with which he had begun his career. Working aside from the dominant Hindi traditions, the director offers a striking example of integrity and commitment to an unrelenting vision.