Year of release: 1974
Starring: Anant Nag
Kader Ali Beg
Music: Vanraj Bhatia
Written by: Shyam Benegal
Cinematography: Govind Nihalani
Producers: Lalit M. Bijlani, Freni Variava: Blaze Film Enterprises
Director: Shyam Benegal
Running time: 125 minutes
Shyam Benegal is the one filmmaker in India who altogether changed the definition of cinema in this country. Post Satyajit Ray, Gurudutt and Raj Kapoor, he was the one man who made movies on his own conditions, the way he wanted to present the subject he liked. With his debut movie Ankur-the seedling, he brought revolution in the world of Hindi cinema.
Ankur starts with the story of a wealthy landlord’s son Surya(Anant Nag), who has just completed his graduation and is married forcibly to a girl of his father’s choice, named Saru(Priya Tendulkar) and then he is sent to the village nearby to start handling the village farm of his family. Surya’s father has a mistress also named Kaushalya and an illegitimate son as well. Surya heads towards village without his wife and there he meets Lakshmi(Shabana Azmi), a maid servant who is there to look after his house in the village. Lakshmi’s husband Kishtayya(Sadhu Meher) is a deaf and mute alcoholic and they are in extremely destitute condition. Since Surya’s wife Saru is not with him, he starts feeling frustrated(sexually of course) and start getting attracted to Lakshmi. One fateful day, when Kishtayya gets caught stealing toddy, he faces ignominy by Surya and depart secretly as is unable to face the humiliation. Now, Surya who started flirting with Lakshmi many days back gets success in his plan and they sleep together for a night.
Saru arrives few days later and she detests the presence of Lakshmi in her house because “Lakshmi was a dalit“; but the clear reason was the rumor that she had heard about her husband and Lakshmi. Meanwhile Lakshmi gets pregnant with Surya’s child and one day, Saru exiles Lakshmi from her house eventually in the name of pilfering. Many days later, Kishtayya returns with his alcoholic habit left behind and with money he had made somehow. Lakshmi gets dazed and feels extremely guilty as she thinks that she has betrayed her husband. Kishtayya in order to again start a job of riding bullock cart, approaches Surya and carries a stick in his hand. Surya under false impression thinks that Kishtayya is coming for a revenge and punishes him with a scourge. Lakshmi comes to defend her husband and curses Surya and then returns with her husband.
In the very last scene a child standing there witnessing all the drama there, throws a stone at the window glass of Surya’s house and movie ends there.
Ankur, basically has a very complex theme to deal with and one thing which enhances the beauty of this complexity is an adept direction of Shyam Benegal. Benegal has dealt with stratified theme here and has emerged victoriously. The basic subject which Ankur deals with is the exploitation of the proletariat by the property-owning parochial class, whether it is in terms of economic or sexual exploitation. But it would be a crime here not to notice the multifaceted subject of the film which has exposed the rampant social evils in the society.
- Polyamory(of Surya’s father of keeping mistress).
- Alcoholism, especially in the case of underprivileged section of the society.
- Marriage at early age.
- Sexual exploitation of women who belong to backward classes.
- Uncontrolled behavior of rich towards poor.
Points mentioned above are clearly shown and magnificently woven in the story by Benegal.
Ankur not only marked the debut of Shyam Benegal but it was also the first release of Shabana Azmi and introduced Anant Nag to Hindi cinema.
Anant Nag played the role of a young son of a landlord brilliantly. The role of Surya who is interested in further studies and not marriage and the frustration of being helpless in front of his father to raise his voice has been portrayed very realistically by him. His sexual urge which makes him approach Lakshmi for physical gratification and then spurning her like a coward has been played so well by Anant Nag that one can never imagine any other actor in that role no matter who that actor is. With his dynamic performances like this one, he is considered as one of the finest actors Kannada cinema has ever produced.
Shabana Azmi today needs no introduction but this movie came when she was a novice but with this very first movie, she boldly and beautifully made a statement how prolific actor she is. Role of a dalit Lakshmi who sleeps with her landlord and respects her husband a lot at the same time has been played by her very well. Not only her voice and dialogue delivery but the expressions and eye movements she made in this classic leaves the viewer spellbound. No wonder she bagged many national and other award in the later years of her career and still is considered as the first choice for “parallel cinema”.
Sadhu Meher who had done many movies earlier( a masterpiece and unforgettable classic like Bhuvan Shome) played the role of a deaf and mute alcoholic so well that we can’t ask him more. His role of absent or lost minded Kishtayya who steals toddy and is unafraid of the repercussions and the way he doesn’t pay heed to her wife’s warning of the probable consequences is something too difficult to play for any mediocre but he left no stone unturned and did his utmost to do the justice to his role and shows which league of superlative actors he is from.
Ankur also marked the debut of actor Priya Tendulkar(best known for her eponymous role in the television series Rajni) who later established herself as a fine and decent actor.
Coming to the direction, Shyam Benegal who taught at Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) for ten years before making his debut in movies shows how great his aesthetic sense is and that he has taught many super talented actors of our country. The sensitive and burning issues prevalent in the society are interwoven in the movie by him in a perfect manner. But one scene which stood out was the very last scene in which a small boy throws a stone at the glass window of the landlord’s house and runs away. This one scene speaks a lot. It symbolically indicates that the time has come to root out the hypocrisy and exploitation caused by the upper class and its a time for rebellion and no one is going to tolerate this tyranny anymore. This scene happens just after Lakshmi curses Surya and raises her voice against his cruelty. Similarly, the baby that she had wished for in the beginning was in her womb and it was the symbol of the new beginning…and hence….Ankur-the seedling.
Ankur is a very important movie and has played a crucial role in changing the scenario of hindi cinema. It came at the time when commercial movies were the only movies that makers would make. With his first few movies like Ankur(1973), Nishant(1975), Bhumika(1977) and Manthan(1976), Benegal introduced a new genre in India called the “middle cinema”. Before Ankur, no one dared making a movie like Ankur which was so bold in nature and treatment alike. Benegal paved the way for the actors or makers who wished to be associated with something more realistic and not only dancing around trees in the name of cinema. He eventually did it and introduced to the world some magnificent actors the world had not seen by then and could probably not see without him, like Naseeruddin Shah,Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and many more.
Review by: Shekhar Srivastava.