The nearest parallel in world cinema that I can think of, when a film is so closely identified with its maker and director, is Hitchcock
In a quarter century, Shyam Benegal has compiled a fine a body of work as any. The nearest parallel in world cinema that I can think of, when a film is so closely identified with its maker and director, is Hitchcock. If Hitchcock's each film is like a separate piece of classic chess gambit, Benegal's is like the work of a 'Renaissance' painter, each film standing on its own, totally independent of others, and yet making a composite whole. Between Manthan and Mandi, there is nothing in common, except Smita Patil, of course, and yet, if you see them you instinctively know they are both Shyam Benegal films. To see them in a retrospective would be like going to an art gallery where a room is dedicated to a single artist.
I have known Shyam Benegal for many years, both as a person and a film-maker, though more as a person. And, in fact, some of the films I have forced myself to see because I know him as a person, though, after seeing them, I have not regretted doing so.I remember Ankur, at a preview at Blaze, and a very slim, doe-eyed Shabana Azmi making her debut. She was the kind of actress only Benegal would have found. I have seen the film several times after that, in bits and pieces, on TV. And every time I see it, I feel a certain rage, the frustration of a child throwing a stone at empty air.The other films have been different Benegals. The one on the Anand Dairy cooperatives, I avoided for a long time, thinking it would be a documentary. Then one afternoon I found it on TV and watched it. If it was a documentary, it was too subtle for me to make out. Bhumika made Smita Patil, and I thought it was a sensuous, almost erotic, film. It also to some extent made Amol Palekar into the actor that he later became.When people talk of Benegal's discoveries, they mention Shabana, Smita and Naseeruddin Shah. But there has been Neena Gupta, haunted and stricken with fits, in that dark, gloaming house in Goa. And Shashi
Kapoor in a film that was a forerunner to Ray's Shatranj Ke Khilari.
But that's the film-maker. There is also the man, Shyam Benegal. A modest, quiet person, who produces films as some people write books. He is not a regular Hindi film producer, but neither is he an art film-maker. He is intelligent, rather than intellectual. His films have a solid base, they all tell direct stories, except one or two, and they are all meant for the average cinemagoer.
He does not hold forth on films, he has other, wider interests in life, and more commitments to life. Only one of these is making cinema more enjoyable.