Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug

This is certainly one of the significant films in Hindi cinematic history. It is to my mind one of the most persuasive representations of a ‘heart of darkness’ in/of contemporary India. Kalyug establishes the locus of the ‘political’ at the heart of the Indian extended family (how many aeons removed from Karan Johar!); it therefore reads the Mahabharata intelligently as opposed to the popular celebratory accounts where the disturbing nature of the epic’s fratricidal struggles are abstracted into ideals of all sorts without a proper understanding of exactly what overused words like ‘karma’, ‘dharma’ and the like really mean. At the same time Kalyug suggests a cyclical structure. The reality of contemporary India represents not just a perversion of the post-Independence ideals (perhaps even chides those ideals for not accurately gauging their own violence) but also in the ‘fatedness’ that the film conveys (not inappropriately if this is a reading of the Mahabharata) returns the narrative to its ancient (genealogically implied, narratively mirrored) site of struggle. Hence it is always the ‘Kalyug’. Such is the lesson to be drawn from this extremely provocative film!

33 Responses to “Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug”

  1. Interesting piece here:

    KALYUG

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    • we want a detailed write up from you !!
      The link has a great insight into the movie.
      agree with Rajen- best work of Benegal.

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  2. Easily Benegal’s best film followed by Junoon.

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  3. Thanks for letting me know about this film, I hadn’t seen in or known what it was about. Very well-written. I’m a huge fan of Shyam Benegal and I look forward to seeing the film.

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  4. I’ve heard quite a bit about this, but haven’t seen it – thanks Satyam. Incidentally, I FINALLY saw Aakrosh just recently. Really blew me away, thanks for recommending it for so long. Though I maintain Nihalani’s “Ardh Satya” (one of the two or three great films in Hindi cinema period) is his best made film, Aakrosh instantly reaches the level of a personal favorite. I’m consistently awed by a talent like Nihalani and how even the better directors these days don’t really come close to him back in his peak.

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  5. Ardh Staya and Aakrosh are both extremely commendable films. However, do not hold AS in as high esteem as GF .i.e one of the two or three great films in Hindi Cinema. There are quite a few contenders. But, still Nihalani is a great talent and even when he crosses the aisle to more mainstream Hindi cinema he hasnt disappointed.
    Would definitely recommend Kalyug. Apart from everything else, Victor Banerjee was a treat. A very decent turn by Shashi Kapoor too. That scene where he is curled up in a foetal position is still etched in memory.

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  6. visual delight Says:

    wonderful review

    victor dada was awesome here and must say he is one of the best actor we have in india

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  7. Rajen, “AS” for me is loaded with so much content and meaning –with so much excellence on a number of levels–one doesn’t know where to begin. It has, in my admittedly young run at Hindi films, been one of the real greats along with movies like Pyaasa and Do Bigha Zameen…

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  8. Like Benegal’s early Ankur also. The problem is his films (barring those Shashi Kapoor ones that are really examples of ‘middle cinema’) started getting progressively ‘drier’. This is true for most of the films in the ‘art film’ movement that were a reaction to the ‘unfettered’ commercialism of the period in many ways. These directors should have picked up their cues from a Mukerjee or in a wider sense from a Ray. This never happened. As such those ‘art films’ were a chore to sit through and for the most part not particularly cinematic either.

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  9. Satyam, that little snippet you wrote is the best writing I have found on Kalyug. BTW this is Henry.

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  10. Re: Satyam hasn’t even banned folks who haven’t seen sholay yet!

    Those guys are useless. They are watching reruns of Dosti wearing their KKR jerseys, hoping KKR wins, so they can see SRK dancing in the buff.

    Par GF se yeh umeed na thi.

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  11. btw- who has not seen Sholay yet ????

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    • You would be surprised. There are also some who havent seen 3I, I think.
      I would divulge their names if Satyam agrees to provide them security cover.

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  12. Actually, Kalyug portrays the Dirty Politics played in contemporary India. It is exceptionally made by Shyam Benegal and all characters are played very well. Satyam, the review of Kalyug is very well-written. Thanks, I watched Kalyug yesterday.And, I agree to you. And, who hasn’t seen Sholay!! How can this be possible? Sholay has been watched by the whole of India…

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      • I wish i had read this extremely informative note of yours when i had first seen the film. But now (and after i read GF’s piece) i may rewatch the film. And u r bang-on when u talk abt the perversion of ideals in post-independent India- think this theme runs in many of Benegal and Nihalani films- i saw Vijeta and even there i felt something similar.

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        • I also believe than Benegal made more interesting films when he moved away from his ‘rural landscape’ as in Kalyug and Junoon (and even his Goan comedy Trikaal). BTW Kalyug has very rich visuals and atmosphere- i loved how quotidian pleasures of wealthy life( horse racing, badminton games, golf) provided a backdrop to the political games.And Shashi incidentally was named Karan here- obviously hinting towards Karna

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  13. I had just finished revisiting Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta this evening and looked up for any of Satyam or GF’s write-ups on the film but couldn’t find any. I hope one (if not both) of them end up writing something abt it- The film deserves their effort. Anyway my random thoughts on the film (Satyam can put this comment in a relevant thread as I couldn’t find any myself)
    [post created]

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  14. I was revisiting Bapu’s Hum Paanch some time back and i found the Mahabharata retrad into the village landscape very well done inspite of this being a more commercial film- a more direct (the names of the leads are derived directly from the characters of the epic) but a very interesting adaptation of the epic This to my mind is Mithun’s best performance by a mile. And the ‘oppression’ shown in the film is gut-wrenching. Might write more about it later

    Incidentally what did you think of the Bapu film?

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