Today (14th Dec) marks the 66th birthday of Shyam Benegal, a prolific writer/director in Indian cinema. Shyam Benegal was born in Andhra Pradesh. He passed out of Osmania University in the mid 50s. He started his career as a copywriter and director in an advertising agency and went on to do more than 620 ads.
It was however in 1974, that Shyam Benegal attained prominence with his first feature film Ankur – a story about feudal system. It was critically acclaimed and got good response from the audience. With this film, Shyam Benegal kind of flamed the new wave cinema movement further. He went on to director more films of this kind such as Nishant, Manthan, Bhumika and Junoon. Manthan was unique in the sense that over 5 lakh farmers had funded the film to an extent by contributing Rs.2 towards the film budget! The film was a success.
Shyam Benegal was also responsible for introducing class actors such as Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Om Puri and Amrish Puri. Most of the films that he did was off beat and centered around social causes. He is mostly remembered for Bhumika, a fictionalized story of the scandalous life of a Marathi film actress of the 30s whose career span reached beyond 50s.
His films have won his numerous awards both national and international. Seven of his films have won National Film Awards. During the 80s when the new wave cinema went on a decline, Shyam Benegal moved in the direction of the television and produced Bharat Ek Khoj based on Pandit Nehru’s book Discovery of India. This was telecast on Doordarshan which even today is considered as one of the best television serials produced in India. In the 90s, he revived his film making with movies like Suraj Ka Saatwaan Ghoda and Samar. His last film was Well Done Abba which again had quite a few social causes as its backdrop. Well Done Abba though being a well made film was a moderate hit compared to his last hit, Welcome To Sajjanpur. The film dealt with the main protagonist’s struggle to find a groom for his daughter and the corruption that he faces everywhere.
Shyam Benegal enjoyed tremendous goodwill for his films and had financial backings from various quarters. But other then countless films and television serials, he also made several documentaries including Child of the Streets (1967), Nehru (1983), Satyajit Ray (1984) and Nature Symphony (1990). His depiction of rural life and social causes in most of his films truly marks the man as someone who knows what ails the society at large.
Shyam Benegal was awarded the Padma Shri in 1976 for his contribution to Indian cinema. This was followed by the Padma Bhushan in 1991. It was however in 2005 that he was conferred with the highest award – Dadasaheb Phalke Award for lifetime achievement. And if that was not all, over the years, he had added seven National Awards for best films and a countless other awards both from within and outside the country. This man has achieved what a thousand can just dream of. Currently he is also associated with the film making school in Mumbai – Whistling Woods International promoted by Subhash Ghai and Film City. To know more about Whistling Woods International and the courses it offers, log on to whistlingwoods.net.