When Benegal went to Cannes with Shabana and Smita - and their mothers

New Delhi, May 18 (IANS): Shyam Benegal's 'Manthan' may be grabbing news headlines at Cannes this year, but it was the multi-award-winning director's second film, 'Nishant' (1975), that was the only one by him to be nominated for the Palme d'Or, the festival's coveted top award.

If the documentary maker-turned-parallel cinema pioneer's first film, 'Ankur' (1973), saw fresh FTII graduate Shabana Azmi making her debut, 'Nishant', which interestingly was shot in the weaving village of Pochampalli in Telangana, was the launchpad of its two principal actors -- Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil.

They were in the stellar company of Girish Karnad, Amrish Puri, Anant Nag, Mohan Agashe (all of whom became the faces of parallel cinema) and Sadhu Meher, who went on to attain greater prominence as an Odia director and actor known for his roles in films such as Mrinal Sen's 'Bhuvan Shome' and 'Mrigaya'.

Incidentally, Shabana's father, the Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, wrote the dialogues of 'Manthan' based on the screenplay by Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar (who also wrote 'Nishant'). 'Manthan' also saw Girish Karnad (who played the central character, Dr Rao), Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Amrish Puri returning to be helmed by Benegal.

A vintage black-and-white picture dating back to the time when 'Nishant' was screened at Cannes shows Benegal, looking more like a travelling salesman with his heavy briefcase, in the company of Shabana and Smita. The picture has been shared on Instagram by MUBI India, a cinema portal that showcases both classics and acclaimed contemporary films.

The two actresses, as was the tradition in those days, were accompanied by their mothers -- theatre personality Shaukat Azmi in the case of Shabana and Vidyatai Patil, Smita's mother, who also was prominent in Maharashtra by virtue of being the wife of well-known state minister and cooperative movement leader Dadasaheb Shivajirao Patil.

The grim narrative of 'Nishant' centres around the sexual exploitation of women by the village elite in rural Telangana during the rule of the Nizams in the 1930s and 1940s. It received the National Award for Best Hindi Feature Film and was invited to the London Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival, where it received the Golden Plaque.



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Title: When Benegal went to Cannes with Shabana and Smita - and their mothers

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