classic film

Classics revisited: Shyam Benegal’s ‘Ankur’ burrows deep into the consciousness

A nameless child, the hope of the future, serves as the voice of justice in the director’s stunning debut movie.

The obscure village Yellareddiguda, 25 kms from Hyderabad, stands awaiting director Shyam Benegal’s fade-in in Ankur (The Seedling). The year is approximately 1945. As drum beats grow louder, a skein in the distance unwinds a procession of village pilgrims threading their way to a shrine. They are an unsmiling stoic company, following an exaggerated young acrobat whose virility is set in immediate contrast against the low caste deaf mute of the village – Kishtaya (played movingly by Sadhu Meher). Kishtaya’s young wife Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi in her stunning debut) stands before the mother goddess and prays for a child.

When she conceives, it is after an illicit relationship with the sharp-eyed, sharp-nosed and sharp-tongued Surya (Anant Nag), the landlord’s son who arrives at Yellareddiguda with his gramophone, cigarettes, film magazines, inbred arrogance and impotent fury. Surya’s father had put an end to Surya’s squandering in the city, refused him graduate study, and arranges his marriage to a child bride before exiling Surya to a landlord’s life at Yellareddiguda. After the news of Surya’s misdemeanors in the village – including his affair with the lower caste Lakshmi – reaches his father, there is a confrontation between the dominating father and his upstart son. Surya’s wife Saroj (Priya Tendulkar), is sent to the village to ensure stability. This is when Surya’s character is given more dimension than that of an overbearing bored brat throwing his weight about. In essaying the weakness of Surya’s character, Nag turns in a commanding performance.

Ankur (1974).

Ankur (1974) depicts endemic social contradictions that trundle alongside the main narrative. Surya’s father has a mistress and a son in the village, both of whom are accepted even by Surya’s mother. The priest of the village barely convinces anyone that he is a man of God, yet holds a secure position. An overseer is allowed larceny in broad daylight while Lakshmi is driven out for stealing a few fistfuls of rice.

The resignation of the subservient to their lot is never highlighted for sympathy. But Benegal gives his characters time, reason and context to find their voices.

“Hunger is not merely a call of the stomach,” says a woman with a knife edge to her tone when she is summoned before the panchayat for taking a lover and deserting her unproductive husband. Another wife refuses to be gambled away by her drunken spouse. Lakshmi will not abort her child, distressed though she is and disgusted that her landlord-lover cannot stand up to his tall pledges of protecting her forever.

Reality in Benegal’s world means that even though resilience may not immediately be rewarded, truth will win out. In Ankur, it is a nameless child, the hope of the future, who serves as the voice of justice. He squeals to Surya about Kishtaya stealing from the fields and watches his disgrace – Kishtaya is shaved and then paraded around the village on a donkey – and at the end of the film, it is the same child who delivers the metaphorical master stroke against the landlord and his ilk.

An eye-opening moment is when Lakshmi dispassionately narrates the circumstances of her marriage to Kishtaya, once a skillful potter, now defunct, thanks to the availability and preference for aluminium ware. In private, Lakshmi yearns for sexual fulfillment and berates Kishtaya for his drunkenness. But she cares for Kishtaya as she would for a helpless animal and even in her vulnerable position, resists her master’s sneers at Kishtaya’s worthlessness.

Shabana Azmi and Sadhu Meher in Ankur. Image credit: Blaze Film Enterprises.
Shabana Azmi and Sadhu Meher in Ankur. Image credit: Blaze Film Enterprises.

“The faces of the cast – particularly the ravishing Shabana Azmi as the peasant girl – are a landscape in themselves,” remarked Nigel Andrews in a Financial Times review. This adds to the unvarnished, spare look of Ankur, with its carefully constructed set design and costumes. Guided by Benegal’s objectivity and lack of pontification, Govind Nihalani’s camera subtly offsets poor and plenty – the sun-bleached hay of Lakshmi’s little hut and the verdant green of zamindari acres; the meagre mouthfuls of rice that Lakshmi serves at home and the bulging burlap sacks from which she steals – tropes which, over the years have become less nuanced types in post-Ankur cinema.

Lakshmi’s inchoate and conflicting emotions – relief and despair, trust and guilt, attraction and repulsion – could never have seen better light or faded less gently into darkness. Sound editor Jayesh Khandelwal brings Yellareddiguda’s days and nights to life – drum beats of different rhythms announce events of consequence, human voices sing in the distant fields, a bird, trills distinctly above others, a curtain of silver rain is washed out by only a few strains of music. Finally, there is the bitter, hate-filled, anguished cry of a single woman that resonates against hegemony for all time.

Tendrils of Ankur have spread through Benegal’s work over the ‘70s and grafted themselves into the bedrock of Indian cinema. Critics and academicians will argue over content, style and treatment, whether parallel cinema germinated from Ankur and whether Benegal did indeed bring on the Indian New Wave, but viewers will remember the slow penetration of Ankur deep into the core of their consciousness .

Shabana Azmi and Anand Nag in Ankur. Image credit: Blaze Film Enterprises.
Shabana Azmi and Anand Nag in Ankur. Image credit: Blaze Film Enterprises.
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.