Shyam Benegal’s ‘Ankur’ and the beginning of a film movement

A script written during the filmmaker’s college years became the foundation of his sparkling career as one of cinema’s greatest realists.

Shyam Benegal touted the story of Ankur for 14 years, knocking on the doors of several producers who turned down his proposal. Many of them had the same question for him: ‘Who wants to see a film about the landlord and his mistress?’ He finally secured independent financing from Blaze Films, the largest distributors of advertising films in India. Mohan Bijlani and Freni Varavia were far-sighted producers who convinced him to make the film in Hindi and not in the regional language of Telugu, which was the director’s original plan.

Soon after World War II, Bijlani realized the importance of advertisements in cinema halls – his company, Blaze, made advertisement films and slides which reached the furthest corners of the country. Benegal has already made commercials for the company which was to back his subsequent works as well. Set firmly within the realist aesthetic, Ankur deals with feudal oppression in the microcosmic rural world of a village in Andra Pradesh. The film contains explicit reference to the peasants’ movement, initially led by the CPI (M) (Communist Party of India [Marxist]), which acquired a national dimension following the failure of the 1971-72 harvests. Shyam had written the script in his college years, basing it loosely on a true story.

Shabana Azmi in ‘Ankur’.
Shabana Azmi in ‘Ankur’.

Benegal used professional actors in Ankur, some from the Film Institute as well from the National School of Drama. He was very keen to cast Waheeda Rehman – a top actress from popular films, best known for her roles in Guru Dutt’s films and in Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965) – as his heroine, but she turned down the role after a bad experience in a regional film in Kerala. Shabana Azmi cast as the heroine Lakshmi was a fresh graduate and gold medallist from the film institute. The style of the film was considered alien to the Hindi film industry. The actors wore no makeup and were dressed in realistic costumes. The languages used is the dialect of Dakhni Urdu, commonly used around Hyderabad. The blend of Dakhni and Telugu folk songs located characters through the use of language. Both Azmi and Nag introduced a new style of natuaralised acting using regional accents.

Ankur has been defined as deploying psychological realism and regional authenticity to the accepted narrative style of Indian films. Yet Benegal tells a story and tells it well. The narrative base line is one of the strongest features of his films. Here he creates a detailed microcosmic world and its characters in which the macro forces of feudal power structures and gender oppression are played out. Ankur is not an overtly didactic film, but in the Brechtian sense it does ask the audience to react to what is represented, rather than telling the viewer what to do.

Anant Nag in ‘Ankur’.
Anant Nag in ‘Ankur’.

Benegal’s first trilogy – Ankur, Nishant and Manthan – combined the contemporary stage of pleasant revolution with the consolidation of the development aesthetic (the Nehruvian vision of socialist and egalitarian society, which included five-year plans as development models). The three films comprise a trilogy in the sense that they deal with contemporary or neo-contemporary situations in India. They deal with the changes that are taking place very slowly as India moves from the feudal systems that prevailed and continue to prevail. The change has much to do with ownership and power. Ankur and Nishant – based on real-life incidents in Hyderabad – and Manthan – about the development of the milk colony in Gujarat – are rural stories about change. They were immediately hailed as a trilogy, even though Benegal had not set out to make this consciously. By using regional dialect, the new cinema was able to ‘forge a new aesthetic of statist realism’. Ankur became ‘a symbol of new cinema’.

Benegal himself attributed the success of the new cinema to the existence of a demand. ‘Political cinema will only emerge when there is a need for it,’ he observed.

Ankur has also been termed a ‘politically inflected melodrama’. Benegal himself has commented that political films are made when the need for them arises. The Indian Constitution set up in 1950 was a social contract on paper, but this did not immediately bring to an end the prevalent feudal order. In the early 1970s, the audience of new cinema was well aware of the post-independence peasant struggles against feudalism, especially the rise of the Naxalite movement, a peasant uprising which turned to armed insurrection in the Naxalbari district of Bengal and spread to Andhra Pradesh. Ankur is set in 1945 in a feudal state, but the background of 1970s peasant insurrection gave it a contemporary edge.

Ankur’s ending was immediately read as a powerful statement of the awakened consciousness of the oppressed peasants. The absence of closure and the act of defiance by a silent witness (in this case, the young boy) effectively point to future developments and subversions of the power equation.

The strength of the film lies in the detailed exploration of characters and their motivations, the contradictory impulses they are governed by, the stray glances and gestures, landscape details, marvellous use of folk music and natural sound. Benegal comments on the open ending in Ankur:

It would be ridiculously dogmatic and simplistic to think in terms of simple solutions. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. Besides the solutions would have to be in the outside world. But it is interesting to explore the problems in Indian society, so that at least one can become aware of the forces that are at work in it and the way those forces combine and interact. The point is to clarify the directions one must take if these problems have to be sorted out.

When asked whether he considered himself part of the new wave, Benegal predictably replied:

I am not sure if there is such a thing as a new wave. Let me put it this way, some people now attempt to make films of their own choice, different from the industry’s mould, everything gets cast in that mould, films come out of that fantastic sausage machine. Now there is a wide range of people, from one end of the scale to the other, who want to make their own kind of films. So I certainly would think of myself as a part of this group.

Excerpted with permission from Shyam Benegal, Sangeeta Datta, Roli Books.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.