2 March 2006 | david-bond-2
Classic of new wave Indian cinema
Ankur is to my mind one of the very best Hindi films ever made. Unusually for Hindi cinema, it is an entirely realistic film without singing and dancing. Since music is of huge commercial importance to Indian cinema, the pressure on directors to include it tends to be impossible to resist and is a constant problem facing 'serious' Indian film-makers. The late seventies was a very special moment with a concerted attempt by some directors ('New Cinema") to buck the commercial trend, of whom the most important were Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani (who is responsible for the cinematography in Ankur). Ankur was the first and most strikingly successful films of the "New India" movement (which only lasted some five or six years), Nihalani's Aakrosh (1980) being amongst the last. Working with a young cast (who formed a virtual repertory company for the "New Cinema" films and a committed team, Benegal was able to produce one of the freshest and most compelling of films. Without being in the least pretentious or even belonging to that nebulous category 'the art film', Ankur is a realistic drama without concession that managed also to be a significant commercial success. The acting is superb. Shabana Azmi has had a long and glorious career but has, in my view, never been better than in this, her first important role. Anant Nag (an actor who has never entirely received his due) is also as good here as I have ever seen him. Sadhu Meher (as the deaf and dumb husband) very deservedly won a national award for his performance and Priya Tedulkar is chilling as the narrow-minded malicious young wife. Nihalani's camera-work is also exceptional. In all it is one of those rare occasions when brilliant teamwork around a clearly thought-out project results in a near-perfect film.
For the anecdote: There is a nice moment towards the end of the film where Surya (Anant Nag) is playing records and his wife requests something by Nimmi. Before playing the record, he corrects her by pointing out that the record is in fact by Lata. This is a very typical Benegal touch. Not only does it fix the date of the events (c. 1950) but is at once a comment on Hindi cinema history and on the character of the young wife. 1949 was the key year in establishing the absolute domination of 'playback' singers, notably Lata Mangeshkar whose annus mirabilis this was with massive hit-scores in three films, Barsaat, Mahal and Andaaz. In those days, playback singers were often uncredited and many (like the wife in the film) believed the songs to be sung by the actors and actresses themselves. The reference is particularly sardonic in a film that is itself songless. Nimmi made her début as an actress in Barsaat where she plays a simple mountain girl seduced by a cynical young man from the city and this became her typical role in subsequent films. The wife's preference for Nimmi is therefore a comment on the hypocrisy of her harsh attitude towards Lakshmi in the film.