Reason I start my blog with Kalyug: because it’s the last film I’ve seen, and this blog’s supposed to be about films, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen! For me, till now, it had been one of those ‘art’ films that aired on good old Doordarshan (ah! those were the days…) from time to time on Sunday evenings and Friday late night telecasts which I detested nearly as much as my father relished them. But inevitably some kind of nostalgia has been attached to the images, the stylizations, the performers; the kind of longingness you have for the smell of old childhood cardigans or the tunes your mom used to hum while thumping you to sleep….scenes from these old flicks usually make me sit up and watch, and more often than not, I’ve been rewarded. For me, Kalyug achieved that and more.
With Kalyug (1981), Shyam Benegal, ever ready with his deft palette, applies bold strokes on a phenomenon which is even more disturbing today than it was back then: corporate politics (Remember Madhur Bhandarkar – Corporate ?). As a motif, he fell back on the Indian Iliad, the Mahabharat. And Justice was served – the Benegal way. The plot is in no way less gripping, intriguing or revealing than the Epic itself – keeps you, as they say, ‘glued to the screen’ till the very climax.
Most of the principal characters and themes of Mahabharat are re-evaluated in the modern context. Identifiable yet larger than life. Perhaps the one character looming large over all else is that of Karan Singh (Shashi Kapoor), clearly based on Karna in Mahabharat. The corporate deliberations and strategies, first to win contracts, and later on, even to kill the rivals, are uncannily similar to the Kurukshetra war. Having said that, none can take away from Kalyug the fact that it’s a wonderful film in itself. Forget the thematic similarities with the Epic; it’s still great cinema.
Performance wise, as is common with Benegal’s cinema, the film is as rich as it gets. With Kalyug, Shyam Benegal proves that he’s equally at ease with frontline stars as he is with the hardboiled ‘arty’ actors. Anant Nag is as raw as ever: the rage and scepticism in his role as Bharat Raj comes across excellently well. Shashi Kapoor as Karan Singh, again, is splendid, but he never really comes out of Shashi-Kapoor-the-Matinee-Idol mode, which in a way, works wonders for the film. About Rekha, she’s as magnetic and enigmatic and elusive-yet-familiar as ever. Supriya Pathak shows how to stand on the fringes of the frame and yet not be ‘sidelined’. Victor Bannerjee is a revelation as the crooked monster with a dark, scheming persona.
All in all, Kalyug is cinema at its bestest!