Films by Shyam Benegal that changed the Indian cinema

The subtle art of narration and storytelling with powerful story

A documentarian and an advertisement filmmaker first, turned director and screenwriter, Shyam Benegal belongs to the genre of nonmainstream Hindi cinema and is considered to be the founder of the movement of realistic and issue-based filmmaking known famously as New Indian cinema, New Wave Indian cinema, or parallel cinema. A testimony of his genre was his first four feature films Ankur, Nishant, Manthan, and Bhumika forming the genre called ‘middle cinema’. Here is a list of Benegal films that are a must-watch.

Mandi This film is Benegal’s most realized, multifarious, and seductive work with enchanting female talent comprising Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil among others. The film is portraying sexual-political at its delectable best with Azmi as the Madame of the brothel and Smita as her favourite girl. The actors play their role so beautifully that the audience gets lost in the narration as the film is a supremely entertaining and trenchant commentary on society.

Bhumika This film is a commentary on chauvinism, freedom of making choices, acceptance, and submission. Bhumika is based on the memoirs of popular Marathi actress of the 40s and 50s, Hansa Wadkar, Benegal effortlessly brings to screen an inward approach towards relationship conflicts, feminism, and coming-of-age drama.

Junoon It is based on Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons, based on a true story of a seething account of the 1857 revolution. A very angry film, it comes out to be exhausting for its passion with five central characters driving the film to its finest. With a cast of Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Jennifer Kendal, and Nafisa Ali, every frame of the film ooze of exceptional storytelling.

Mammo This film is based on a piece written by Khalid Mohammed depicting his real-life experiences. The story is of a displaced Muslim woman, Mehmooda Begum, who doesn’t know where she belongs, was born in India and was a part of the exodus in 1947 with her husband. After her husband’s death being disowned by his family, Mammo comes to India, from where the movie takes off narrating her experience.

Nishant With this film, Benegal openly condemns the feudal system, exploring the idea of the rural elite’s command and the sexual victimization of women.A story from a school teacher wife abducted and repeatedly raped by the Zamindar and how the world surrounding her reacts to it.

Benegal has also explored dramatic urban themes in the film Kalyug. And not to forget, Benegal has been highly influenced by Satyajit Ray style of filmmaking – reflection of which can be seen in his films too. It is his distinctiveness and unique style of storytelling that has forced the audience to see a narrative unlike before.