Shyam Benegal can easily be called as the father of the Alternate Cinema in India. With his initial back-to-back films like Ankur in 1974, Nishant in 1975 and Manthan in 1976 he created a niche for himself and gave rise to a new genre altogether. Born to a photographer father Sridhar Benegal on 14th December 1934, Shyam Benegal made his first film on a camera which was gifted to him by his father. Later on he formed the Hyderabad Film Society while doing his Masters in Economics.
This extremely talented screenplay writer and director, who started his career as a copywriter in Mumbai, has been the receiver of almost all the prestigious awards for his films namely, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and the Dadasaheb Phalke award.
This seven times National Award winner is known to make hard-hitting reality films which carry a strong message for the society to ponder upon. Although he has seldom relied on music as a tool for his films, the background music for his films has always been a standout. Let us have a look at some of the songs featured in his movies.
1. Piya baaj pyala piya jaaye na – Nishant (1975)
This 1975 drama has almost all the parallel cinema actors – Girish Karnad, Shabana Azmi, Anant Nag, Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah. The plot focuses on the exploitation of women in rural India during the feudal times. The music was given by Vanraj Bhatia and this song is sung by Preeti Sagar. There are no musical instruments used in this song and the emptiness of the song echoes in our ears and resonates in our minds for a long long time… Nahi ishq jis woh bada kood hai, kadhen uss se mil kar bisiya jaaye na… The one who does not love is a beast indeed, can I ever be a beast to live without my love!
2. Mero gaam – Manthan (1976)
This movie was one of the crowd-funded projects of India where 500,000 farmers collectively. The film actually starts with “500,000 Farmers of Gujarat present.” The plot is set against the backdrop of the White Revolution in India. The song is based on a Gujarati folk song and is sung by Preeti Sagar who won the Filmfare award for best female playback singer.
3. More Kanha jo aaye – Sardari Begum (1996)
Sardari Begum was a movie of complex characters and their situations. It depicts the story of a singer-courtesan, played by Kirron Kher, who is dynamic and who breaks free of all the shackles of society to gain excellence in her career and life in general. Music was the backbone of this film. The lyrics were penned by Javed Akhtar and the songs were composed by Vanraj Bhatia.
This song is a thumri sung by Asha Bhosle and picturised on Smriti Mishra (as the younger Sardari) and later on Kirron Kher as the old Sardari Begum showing the journey of the singer through it.
4. Yeh shaamein – Suraj Ka Saatvan Ghoda (1992)
The movie is based on a novel written by Dharmavir Bharti of the same name. The film was considered a little abstract as it had a very novel way of presenting the narrative to the audience. It has a narrator who tells the stories of three different women which actually turns out to be a single story when seen as an overview.
The music is again by Vanraj Bhatia and the song is sung by Udit Narayan and Kavita Krishnamoorthy. The song starts slowly and progresses to a completely different tune which wows us pleasantly.
5. So gaye hain – Zubeida (2001)
This film is based on the ill-fated actress Zubeida Begum, who married the Maharaja of Jodhpur and her life as she transforms from a young actor to a princess. Zubeida was a mainstream movie of Benegal. It starred Karisma Kapoor, a mainstream actress and the music was given by A.R. Rahman.
This song is sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The sadness, the gravity of the song narrates the sorrows of Zubeida and her troublesome life. Saans bhi leti hai jo kathputliyan, unki bhi thaame hai koi doriyaan… The puppets seem to breathe.. but even that is controlled by the puppet master’s strings.
6. Ekla cholo – Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004)
This film showed the journey of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his struggle to get freedom for India. It sparked many protests in India during its release as it showed a rather controversial view of Bose which was not accepted by the people at large.
This A.R. Rahman song is sung by Sonu Nigaam and Nachiketa Chakraborty. It features in bits and pieces throughout the movie.
7. Aadmi aazad hai – Welcome To Sajjanpur (2008)
The film is a satire on the rural political scenario in India. This movie was a comeback to comedy for Benegal after Charandas Chor.
This Shantanu Moitra song is sung by Kailash Kher and it features almost all the actors of the movie. It revolves around the result of the rural election where the singer is telling everyone that we are a free nation and have a right to vote whoever we want. It starts with an iktara giving it a rural touch from the very beginning.
8. Tumhare bina jee na lage – Bhumika (1977)
Based on the autobiography of a Marathi theatre personality, Hansa Wadkar, the film has Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Amol Palekar in the lead. Music given by Vanraj Bhatia, lyrics of this song are penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri and it is rendered by Preeti Sagar.