Most fans of popular Hindi cinema will be familiar with films like Zubeidaa (2001) and Welcome To Saajanpur (2008) but as The Master: Shyam Benegal shows, Bengal has a formidable body of work before mainstream success; films that won many National Awards, defied convention and were very much ahead of their time – so much so, that today’s cinema will be forever indebted to Benegal’s contribution.
Unfortunately then, The Master has quite a jarring rhythm to it so that the viewer never really gets settled in and feels quite clumsy at times. I also found my attention wandering at one point and at one point, was not sure why we had certain contributors on screen who didn’t offer anything different from what Benegal has already told us. Although the affection Mohammed has for Benegal and his films comes across quite well, I do wish the editing had been more stringent and there was a greater organisation to the material rather than a brisk chronological stroll through Benegal’s filmography.
Thankfully, the subject matter here is fascinating and just about overshadows the flaws- Benegal is a very likeable person who comes across really well as a passionate creative who has conviction in his vision and one gets the sense that his pursuit in making his films really was instrumental in forming independent Indian cinema as we know it today. I felt all of his films could easily fill documentaries of their own, not only because they are rooted in various social causes but also the amazing roster of talent such as Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseerudin Shah that his films boast.
Out of all the contributors interviewed for The Master, I thought Shabana Azmi’s anecdotes were quite candid and offered a real insight into what it is like to work with Benegal whilst Manoj Bajpayee’s recounting of how Karisma Kapoor asked him not to kiss her on the lips in Zubeidaa is an awkward encounter, especially when Karisma manages to avoid elaborating on the subject. As Neena Gupta points out, most actresses are quite possessive of Benegal after working with him and it is not hard to see why – his films truly offer actresses a wonderful showcase for their talents.
If you have never heard of Shyam Benegal or are unfamiliar with his early work, The Master offers a a guide of sorts of which ones to watch (I had seen Ankur (1974) prior to this and cannot wait to watch Mandi, Nishant and Bhumika as well as a rewatch of Zubeidaa). Hopefully this won’t be the only documentary made on Benegal but it certainly is a starting point to learn more about one of India’s most prolific independent filmmakers.
Directed by: Khalid Mohammed
Narrated by: Naseerudin Shah
The Master: Shyam Benegal played at the London Indian Film Festival.
For more information about the festival and it’s programme, head over to: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/programme.htm
Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.
Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2