(image from Planet Bollywood.com)
Up until last week, almost any American writing about Shyam Benegal had to do a great deal of bluffing. Cinematical's Kim Voynar just described viewing Benegal's Goa-set Trikal during the Telluride fest where the master filmmaker (and Indian member of Parliament) was receiving the fest's highest honor, the Silver Medallion. Here we have audio of the ceremony, as well as an interview between Benegal and Godard collaborator J.-P. Gorin.
A person with a Netflix account can see seven other Benegal films, including 2001's Zubeidaa, and that leaves about 14 other films unaccounted for. Here in Berkeley, Benegal is a three-day guest at the Pacific Film Archives. Saturday the 8th he's heading south to Santa Cruz to show Zubeidaa. Benegal was invited down to that small but incomparable college town by the local Satyajit Ray Film and Study collection. That Benegal was following Ray's enormous steps is something even a bluffer knows. He made a documentary about Ray, for example, and like the great Bengali filmmaker, Benegal was an escapee from the rainbow-colored escapism of Bollywood. For me, it took last night's PFA screening of Benegal's early film Ankur (The Seedling) to really explain what the fuss was about.
Nothing could be less like melodrama than this Faulkner-like study of hard living in a rural backwater, a contrast between wretched poverty and wealthy ineffectualness. A callow landowner's son--whose surface layer of sophistication is about as deep as the candy shell on an M & M--makes life miserable through a combination of moral highhandedness and inner blindness. Benegal fleshes out the story with juicy rural-comic anecdotes. Still, the deeply impressive lead performance by Shabana Azmi demonstrates Ankur as one of the most mature and compelling films the Indian cinema has to offer.