50 Films I Love: Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug

FC Editor Anupama Chopra shares some of her favourite films. Her first pick is this modern-day rendition of the Mahabharat starring Shashi Kapoor, Anant Nag, Rekha, Raj Babbar, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and more
50 Films I Love: Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug

Hi! Thank you for watching films I love in which I'm talking about exactly that – films I love.

These aren't in any specific order. And neither are they universally acknowledged classics. These are films that speak to me and I'd like to share my passion for them with you. Maybe you'll like them too.

I'm starting with Kalyug, released in 1981. Kalyug was directed by Shyam Benegal and produced by Shashi Kapoor. Firstly, just take a moment to think about that – an A-list Bollywood star producing a complex and layered film with a director best known for art house successes like Ankur. In 1979, Kapoor and Benegal had made the brilliant period film Junoon, based on the Ruskin Bond story A Flight of Pigeons. At the time, Kapoor was at the peak of his career, doing hearty masala movies like Shaan and Do Aur Do Paanch. But his cinematic sensibility, rooted in theatre, was far more refined.

Kalyug is a modern-day rendition of the Mahabharat. The Pandavas and Kauravas become two warring industrial families. The battle is about government contracts, trade unions, profits, power. A beauteous Rekha plays the Draupadi figure – ostensibly she is married to the eldest son, played by Raj Babbar. But it is very clear that her affection lies with the more volatile Bharatraj, played by Anant Nag. A. K. Hangal is Bhishma. Sushma Seth is the Kunti figure, here named Savitri. And there is Shashi Kapoor himself, heartbreakingly handsome, as Karan, Savitri's eldest illegitimate son, a good man on the wrong side.

But there are no heroes in Kalyug. All the characters are flawed and compromised, propelled by hubris and greed. As the corporate battle becomes more fierce, the bodies mount and the film ends on a note of deep sadness. There is just emptiness and loss – and a very young Urmila Matondkar, playing a young boy who will ultimately inherit it all. The end titles roll on the looming buildings of Mumbai – almost as if Benegal is indicting the entire city.

Kalyug was made by a dream team. Govind Nihalani was on camera, the dialogue was written by Satyadev Dubey and Vanraj Bhatia created a haunting background score. Here's my favorite scene, in which Karan finds out the truth about his birth. I've never forgotten the look in Shashi Kapoor's eyes.

You can watch Kalyug on DVD. 

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