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Shyam Benegal

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Shyam Benegal
Shyam Benegal at his office in Mumbai in 2010
Born (1934-12-14) 14 December 1934 (age 89)
Occupation(s)Film director, Screenwriter
SpouseNira Benegal
RelativesGuru Dutt (cousin)
Awards1976 Padma Shri
1991 Padma Bhushan
2005 Dadasaheb Phalke Award
2013 ANR National Award
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
In office
16 February 2006 – 15 February 2012

Shyam Benegal (born 14 December 1934) is an Indian film director, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. Often regarded as the pioneer of parallel cinema, he is widely considered as one of the greatest filmmakers post 1970s.[1] He has received several accolades, including eighteen National Film Awards, a Filmfare Award and a Nandi Award. In 2005, he was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest award in the field of cinema. In 1976, he was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honour of the country, and in 1991, he was awarded Padma Bhushan,[2] the third-highest civilian honour for his contributions in the field of arts.

Benegal was born in Hyderabad to Sridhar B. Benegal who was prominent in the field of photography.[3] Starting his career as a copywriter, he made his first Documentary film in Gujarati, Gher Betha Ganga (Ganges at the Doorstep) in 1962. Benegal's first four feature films Ankur (1973), Nishant (1975), Manthan (1976) and Bhumika (1977) made him a pioneer of the new wave film movement of that period.[4] Benegal's films, Mammo (1994), along with Sardari Begum (1996) and Zubeidaa (2001) all of which won National Film Awards for Best Feature Film in Hindi, form the Muslim women Trilogy.[5] Benegal has won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi seven times. He was awarded the V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Early life and education[edit]

Shyam Benegal was born on 14 December 1934 in a Konkani-speaking[6] Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin family[7] in Hyderabad, as Shyam Sunder Benegal.[8] His father hailed from Karnataka.[9] When he was twelve years old, he made his first film, on a camera given to him by his photographer father Sridhar B. Benegal. He received an M.A. in Economics from Osmania University, Hyderabad.[10] There he established the Hyderabad Film Society.


Film director and actor Guru Dutt's maternal grandmother and Shyam's paternal grandmother were sisters, thus making Dutt and Shyam second cousins.[11]


Shyam Benegal, at International Film Festival of Kerala 2016 Thiruvananthapuram, 11 December

Early career[edit]

In 1959, he started working as a copywriter at a Mumbai-based advertising agency, Lintas Advertising, where he steadily rose to become the creative head. Meanwhile, Benegal made his first documentary in Gujarati, Gher Betha Ganga (Ganges at the Doorstep) in 1962. His first feature film had to wait another decade while he worked on the script.[12]

In 1963 he had a brief stint with another advertising agency called ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion). During his advertising years, he directed over 900 sponsored documentaries and advertising films.

Between 1966 and 1973, Shyam taught at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and twice served as the institute's chairman: 1980–83 and 1989–92. By this time he had already started making documentaries. One of his early documentaries A Child of the Streets (1967), garnered him wide acclaim.[13] In all, he has made over 70 documentary and short films.[14]

He was awarded the Homi J. Bhabha Fellowship (1970–72)[10] which allowed him to work at the Children's Television Workshop, New York, and later at Boston's WGBH-TV.

Feature films[edit]

After returning to Mumbai, he received independent financing and Ankur (The Seedling) was finally made in 1973. It was a realistic drama of economic and sexual exploitation in his home state, Telangana, and Benegal instantly shot to fame. The film introduced actors Shabana Azmi and Anant Nag and Benegal won the 1975 National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film. Shabana won the National Film Award for Best Actress.

The success that New India Cinema enjoyed in the 1970s and early 1980s could largely be attributed to Shyam Benegal's quartet: Ankur (1973), Nishant (1975), Manthan (1976) and Bhumika (1977). Benegal used a variety of new actors, mainly from the FTII and NSD, such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Amrish Puri.

In Benegal's next film, Nishant (Night's End) (1975), a teacher's wife is abducted and gang-raped by four zamindars; officialdom turns a deaf ear to the distraught husband's pleas for help. Manthan (The Churning) (1976) is a film on rural empowerment and is set against the backdrop of Gujarat's fledgling dairy industry. For the first time, over five lakh (half a million)[15] rural farmers in Gujarat contributed 2 each and thus became the film's producers. Upon its release, truckloads of farmers came to see "their" film, making it a success at the box office.[16] After this trilogy on rural oppression, Benegal made a biopic Bhumika (The Role) (1977), broadly based on the life of well-known Marathi stage and film actress of the 1940s, Hansa Wadkar (played by Smita Patil), who led a flamboyant and unconventional life. The main character sets out on an individual search for identity and self-fulfilment, while also grappling with exploitation by men.[17]

In the early 1970s, Shyam made 21 film modules for Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), sponsored by UNICEF. This allowed him to interact with children of SITE and many folk artists. Eventually he used many of these children in his feature length rendition of the classic folk tale Charandas Chor (Charandas the Thief) in 1975. He made it for the Children's Film Society, India.[18] To quote film critic Derek Malcolm:

what Benegal has done is to paint a magnificent visual recreation of those extraordinary days and one that is also sensitive to the agonies and predicament of a talented woman whose need for security was only matched by her insistence on freedom.[19]

The 1980s[edit]

Unlike most New Cinema filmmakers, Benegal has had private backers for many of his films and institutional backing for a few, including Manthan (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation ) and Susman (1987) (Handloom Co-operatives). However, his films did not have proper releases. He turned to TV where he directed serials such as Yatra (1986), for the Indian Railways, and one of the biggest projects undertaken on Indian television, the 53-episode television serial Bharat Ek Khoj (1988) based on Jawaharlal Nehru's book, Discovery of India.[8] This gave him an added advantage, as he managed to survive the collapse of the New Cinema movement in the late 1980s due to paucity of funding, with which were lost many neo-realist filmmakers. Benegal continued making films throughout the next two decades. He also served as the Director of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) from 1980 to 1986.[10]

Following the success of these four films, Benegal was backed by star Shashi Kapoor, for whom he made Junoon (1978) and Kalyug (1981). The former was an interracial love story set amidst the turbulent period of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, while the latter was based on the Mahabharata and was not a big hit, although both won Filmfare Best Movie Awards in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

Benegal's next film Mandi (1983), was a satirical comedy about politics and prostitution, starring Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. Later, working from his own story, based on the last days of Portuguese in Goa, in the early 1960s, Shyam explored human relationships in Trikal (1985).

Soon, Shyam Benegal stepped beyond traditional narrative films and took to biographical material to achieve greater freedom of expression.[20] His first venture in this genre was with a documentary film based on Satyajit Ray's life, Satyajit Ray, in 1985. This was followed by works such as Sardari Begum (1996) and Zubeidaa, which was written by filmmaker and critic Khalid Mohamed.

In 1985 he was a member of the jury at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival.[21] And in 1988, he served as the jury chairperson of 35th National Film Awards of 1987.

The 1990s and beyond[edit]

The 1990s saw Shyam Benegal making a trilogy on Indian Muslim women, starting with Mammo (1994), Sardari Begum (1996) and Zubeidaa (2001). With Zubeidaa, he entered mainstream Bollywood, as it starred top Bollywood star Karishma Kapoor and boasted music by A. R. Rahman.

In 1992, he made Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (Seventh Horse of the Sun), based on a novel by Dharmavir Bharati, which won the 1993 National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. In 1996 he made another film based on the book The Making of the Mahatma, based on Fatima Meer's, The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma. This turn to biographical material resulted in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, his 2005 English language film. He criticised the Indian caste system in Samar (1999), which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

Benegal is the current president of the Federation of Film Societies of India. He owns a production company called Sahyadri Films.

He has authored three books based on his own films: The Churning with Vijay Tendulkar (1984), based on Manthan; Satyajit Ray (1988), based on his biographical film, Satyajit Ray; and The Marketplace (1989), which was based on Mandi.

In 2009 he was a member of the jury at the 31st Moscow International Film Festival.[22]

Recent projects[edit]

In 2008, his film Welcome to Sajjanpur, starring Shreyas Talpade and Amrita Rao, was released to a good response.[23] Its music was composed by Shantanu Moitra,[24] and it was produced by Chetan Motiwalla. Shyam Benegal is slated to direct an epic musical, Chamki Chameli,[25] inspired by Georges Bizet's classic Spanish opera Carmen. The story revolves around the eponymous Chamki, a beautiful gypsy girl with a fiery temper and is written by Shama Zaidi. The music is by A. R. Rahman and lyrics are by Javed Akhtar.

In March 2010, Benegal released the political satire Well Done Abba.

One of Benegal's future projects is a film based on the life of Noor Inayat Khan, daughter of Inayat Khan and descendant of Tipu Sultan, who served as a British spy during World War II.[26][27]

Benegal made a comeback on the small screen with Samvidhaan, a 10-part mini-series revolving around the making of the Indian Constitution, to be aired on Rajya Sabha TV from 2 March 2014.[28] Along with Benegal, Tom Alter, Dalip Tahil, Sachin Khedekar, Divya Dutta, Rajendra Gupta, K K Raina, and Ila Arun were seen at the press conference for the TV series.

Government of Bangladesh has confirmed Benegal would direct the biopic of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman named Mujib: The Making of a Nation. The film will be released presumably by 2022.[29] [30]

Personal life[edit]

Shyam Benegal is married to Nira Benegal and has a daughter, Pia Benegal,[31] a costume designer, who worked for many films.[32]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Film Award
1975 20th National Film Awards Ankur National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film
1976 21st National Film Awards Nishant National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi
1977 22nd National Film Awards Manthan
1978 23rd National Film Awards Bhumika: The Role National Film Award for Best Screenplay
1979 24th National Film Awards Junoon National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi
1982 27th National Film Awards Arohan
2005 50th National Film Awards Overall Contribution to the Indian Cinema Dadasaheb Phalke Award[33][34]
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration
2009 54th National Film Awards Well Done Abba National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues
Non Feature Films
Feature Films
Filmfare Awards
Cannes Film Festival
Berlin International Film Festival
Moscow International Film Festival
All Lights India International Film Festival
  • 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award
Nandi Awards



  • Benegal on Ray: Satyajit Ray, a Film, by Shyam Benegal, Alaknanda Datta, Samik Banerjee. Seagull Books, 1988. ISBN 81-7046-021-2.
  • Shyam Benegal's the Churning (Manthan): Screenplay, by, Vijay Tendulkar, Shyam Benegal, Samik Banerjee. Seagull Books, 1984. ISBN 0-86132-070-0.


  1. ^ "Shyam-e-ghazal". The Tribune. 29 January 2006. Archived from the original on 10 December 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  2. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  3. ^ Rathor, Swati (26 January 2018). "Picture perfect: A 'flash' from the past, but 'focus' on future". The Time of India. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  4. ^ "Google". www.google.com. Archived from the original on 2 July 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  5. ^ Hudson, Dale (9 October 2012). "NYUAD Hosts Shyam Benegal Retrospective". New York University Abu Dhabi. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  6. ^ Srinivasaraju, Sugata (5 February 2022). "Tongue In A Twist". Outlook. Retrieved 5 March 2023. Konkani has been the mother-tongue of some very famous Indians, like filmmakers Guru Dutt and Shyam Benegal .....
  7. ^ "From Mandi to Welcome to Sajjanpur". Rediff.com. 16 September 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  8. ^ a b Shyam Benegal at rediff.com 1999 Rediff.com, 28 July 1999.
  9. ^ "Shyam Benegal". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 March 2023. Benegal's father was a professional photographer originally from Karnataka, and, as a result, Benegal grew up speaking mostly Konkani and English.
  10. ^ a b c d Homi Bhabha Fellowship Council, Fellows, Biodata Archived 3 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine, "During the period of his Fellowship, Mr. Benegal wrote and directed short films on social themes with special relevance to the lower-income groups of the middle and working classes. He also visited the US, the UK and Japan to study educational television films."
  11. ^ "'Book'ed for a cause". The Times of India. 15 October 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  12. ^ Shyam Benegal at ucla.net South Asia Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.
  13. ^ "Google". www.google.com. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  14. ^ Shyam Benegal Retrospective London's National Film Theatre, 2002[usurped] The Hindu, 17 January 2003.
  15. ^ "'Manthan' made on Rs 2 donations". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  16. ^ NDTV movies Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine NDTV.
  17. ^ ""In search of Shyam Benegal," LA Weekly, 29 August 2007". Archived from the original on 12 February 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Shyam Benegal - Director - Films as Director:, Publications". www.filmreference.com. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  19. ^ Shyam Benegal at Upperstall Upperstall.com.
  20. ^ "Movie Reviews & Film Showtimes | 'Shyam Benegal' at The Del Mar". www.metroactive.com. Archived from the original on 3 August 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  21. ^ "14th Moscow International Film Festival (1985)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  22. ^ "31st Moscow International Film Festival (2009)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  23. ^ "Amrita Rao in Shyam Benegal's next". Archived from the original on 6 December 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  24. ^ Keshavan, Shridevi (12 November 2007). "Bowled over by Benegal". DNA India. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  25. ^ Yashpal Sharma in Chamki[permanent dead link] NDTV.
  26. ^ "I want a break from serious direction: Benegal - Indian Express". The Indian Express. 9 April 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  27. ^ Rao, H. S. (19 November 2013). "Benegal to direct film on Noor Inayat Khan, the secret agent". DNA India. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  28. ^ "'Samvidhaan' By Shyam Benegal". Bollywood Hungama. 24 September 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  29. ^ "Shyam Benegal To Direct Bangabandhu Biopic". The Daily Star. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  30. ^ "Shyam Benegal's 'Mujib' trailer out; the biopic on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to release on October 27". The Hindu.
  31. ^ "Gerson da Cunha turns 90, celebrates with three parties spread over three days". Mumbai Mirror. 18 June 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  32. ^ IANS (10 March 2014). "Pia Benegal makes 'realistic costumes' for 'Samvidhaan'". Business Standard. Mumbai. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  33. ^ "Shyam Benegal wins Dada Saheb Phalke Award". News18.
  34. ^ "Dada Saheb Phalke Award". webindia123.com.
  35. ^ "12th Moscow International Film Festival (1981)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  36. ^ "20th Moscow International Film Festival (1997)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 22 March 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  37. ^ Eenadu daily, Eeenadu Cinema, Page 10, Nandi lifetime achievement awards, retrieved, 24 March 2013.
  38. ^ "Annual Convocation". University of Calcutta. Archived from the original on 28 May 2012.
  39. ^ "ANR National Award for Rajamouli". The Hindu. 9 September 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2020.

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