The Seedling



Director / Screenplay: Shyam Benegal
Production Co.: Blaze
Producers: Mohan J. Bijlani & Freni Variava
Dialogue: Pandit Satya Dubey
Cinematography: Govind Nihalani & Kamath Ghanekar
Editor: Bhanudas
Music: Vanraj Ram Mohan
Dialect: Azia Qaisi
Animation: Ram Mohan
Special Effects: Krishan Malik
Sound: Raghunath & Mangesh Desai Jayeshkhandelwal
Surya: Anant Nag
Surya's father: Mirza Qadir Ali Baig
Saru: Priya Tendulkar
Lakshmi: Shabana Azmi
Kishtaya: Sadhu Meher
Agha Mohammed Hussain
Hemant Jeshwantrao
Master Satyanarayan
Shesham Raju
Hameed Rashim
Aslan Akhtar
Syed Yakoob
134 minutes
16 mm
Black & White
Hindi, with English subtitles
RFS Certificate
To visitors coming from the dwindling film industries of the Occident, the Indian cinema offers an unfamiliar and exhilarating prospect. It is the largest film industry in the world, and perhaps the only one whose prosperity shows no sign of decline. Far from it, there is a vast potential as yet unexplored. In six decades the industry has grown and grown; Bombay has become an Indian Hollywood, and India has developed its own indigenous style of melodrama and musical, escapist entertainment that has found common denominators to appeal to vast populations otherwise divided by language and culture...
So far the major breakthrough has been what have come to be called 'transitional films', pictures which have dealt seriously with serious themes in a way that has managed to attract substantial audiences. The most successful is Shyam Benegal's Ankur, a film of wonderful visual quality and dramatic drive, which deals shrewdly and ironically with the social implications of arranged marriages and caste. A high-caste man, while waiting for his bride to come of age, seduces his lower-caste maid-servant. The eventual victim, such are the hierarchical rules, is the woman's innocent husband.
David Robinson, The Times
A servant girl with a deaf-mute husband is seduced by an arrogant young man, sent by his father to manage a remote farm on the family estate. The landlord's son leaves her pregnant and beats her husband out of fear, an act which only plants the seed of revolution. This brilliantly assured feature film debut by former documentary-director Benegal was based on a story he had written when he was 16, revolving around an incident of which he had first-hand knowledge. Made in Hindi, the dominant language of Indian commercial cinema, it succeeds in being accessible to a mass audience while carrying a political message. The beautiful images contrast vividly with the exposure of the brutal feudalism still prevalent in some parts of India today.
- The Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide, London, 1988
At the end of [Satyajit Ray's] Distant Thunder, the Brahmin doctor decides, with the silent consent of his wife, to bury the body of the untouchable girl and so conquers one of the irrational taboos which govern his life. Similarly in Ankur, when Lakshmi passionately denounces Surya's cruelty and so breaks the accepted rules of deference and submission in another hierarchical country community, one is left, as in Ray's film, with the implication that nothing will ever be the same for these people, that for the first time they are faced with the possibility of positive change. In Lakshmi's case, her baby will now have a chance to grow up without having to accept the stigma of bastardy which has so damaged Pratep, his counterpart in the older generation.
Ankur, which was shown at the 1974 London Film Festival, and has since won numerous awards in India, is the first feature of documentary director Shyam Benegal, who based his unhurried narrative on an incident he saw in a village as a student. The film's considerable strength derives in part from the contrast between an underlying current of indifferent cruelty (at one point a drunken man loses his wife at cards and the next day the winner actually comes to his house to collect her) and recurring, beautifully photographed tranquil images: swaying, feathery palms, the tall field of maize, and the women washing their pots in the water of Surya's shady spring. The loose train of episodes is held together by Benegal's assured sense of time and place, and by the nicely complementary performances of Anant Nag and the beautiful and poised Shabana Azmi.
- John Pym, Monthly Film Bulletin, 3/76
Looking now at Ankur, I find this tale about the predicament of Indian village women not only more poignant but better composed, more serious, more pointed than I had at first supposed. Shyam Benegal tells the story of a girl, wife of a sad deaf-mute, who is seduced by her farmer-employer; when his young wife comes of age and joins him, the girl is cast off. A social fact, the subservience of women, is translated into universally recognisable human terms, it is made accessible. Admirably played - Shabana Azmi as the girl, Sadhu Meher as her husband, Anant Nag as her employer.
- Dilys Powell, The Sunday Times