- Release Date: 24/07/1981
- Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Anant Nag, Rekha, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Victor Banerjee, Raj Babbar.
- Director: Shyam Benegal
One of the seminal masterpieces from the master storyteller Shyam Benegal that got lost in time
Kalyug is a fictional story of two warring business houses that is inspired by the great Indian epic, The Mahabharata. Bharat Raj (Anant Nag), Dharam Raj (Raj Babbar), and Bal Raj (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) form the Puran Chand family and they are what we can call the recreations of the Pandavas. Dhan Raj (Victor Banerjee) is the head of the Khub Chand family and is the character equivalent of Duryodhana. Karan (Shashi Kapoor) is the closest confidant of Dhan Raj. He is also the brains behind the Khub Chand business and has over the years beaten the Puran Chand family on numerous occasions sealing lucrative deals for the Khub Chands. He is the Karan to Victor Banerjee’s Duryodhana.
The film begins with Karan pipping the Purans to another lucrative deal for the Khub Chands. Bharat, who had reasonably quoted for the same deal and had all the parameters under his control is shocked to learn that his company has lost the deal. As he tries to dig deeper into how the Khub Chands out-quoted them, he learns from Bhisham Chand (A K Hangal) that the low quotation of the Khub Chands was possible because of the government machinery that they have at their disposal. Bharat immediately takes legal action against the Khub Chands as they are not entitled to be holding on to the machinery. Bharat’s action sets into motion an elaborate game of chess between the two families that ultimately results in both the families crumbling under the weight of their own sins and secrets from their past. A lot of blood is spilled, and an equal amount of unsavory secrets are revealed as we make our way through the narrative.
I recently discovered this film as I was trying to dig up some old and serious Hindi films that were not strictly speaking mainstream for their times. I felt this urge after watch The Burning Train that I believe could have been a much better film had it not fallen for the tropes of its era. Kalyug gets right everything that most Hindi films of that time got wrong. After the brief voiceover that introduces us to the different characters —that I believe could have been approached in a different manner — the film takes us through the motions of a factory that evidently was as real as it could get. This sets up the mood and feels for what is to come next. We immediately take the film and the characters seriously. If I was the director, this is something that I would have tried to drive home from the very first scene and Benegal does exactly that.
Every character in the film underplays their part and speaks in a manner as they would in real life. There are no elaborate standoffs. There are no poetic dialogues or anything theatric about the performances. The ones involved in business use a lot of business jargons. We, as audiences, don’t need to understand these jargons as they are not critical to driving the bigger point that a character is going for. The women speak mostly about their family members, jewelry, tragedies, and romance. One particular character tries to make her voice heard among the men in matters of business. This is an extremely dialogue-heavy film, but it never feels verbose as the visual representation and the performances of the actors are so engrossing.
Shashi Kapoor has done some really cheesy roles in his days, but his Karan in this film is easily one of the best that I have seen him act. He quickly makes you forget that you are watching a star and you instead take him for the character that he is playing. Karan is a highly competitive man but at the same time, he is fiercely loyal to Dhan Raj. He is also someone who is not afraid to speak his mind even in the company of the old Patriarch of the family, Bhisham Chand. He is intelligent, cunning, and is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He is willing to sabotage his enemies to get his job done but the only line that he fails to cross is the one that needs him to spill blood. As complex a character as Karan is, Shashi Kapoor gets enough chance to showcase his acting prowess. The scene where he is made aware of his true lineage is one of the most powerful in the film. No amount of explaining can compensate for just watching the scenes play out in the film.
Anant Nag is a Shyam Benegal favorite and he played the devilishly interesting protagonist in Benegal’s debut film Ankur. Playing a character here that is a recreation of Arjuna, Anant Nag excels. He is an expressive actor whose eyes speak volumes. This is a noticeable strength in his essay in multiple scenes in the film like the scene where he questions an employee about his loyalty, the scene where he brokers a deal with a union leader played by the ever likable Om Puri or when he is just glancing his to-be wife. His outburst on his mother after he realizes that he might just have killed his own blood is heartbreaking. Suffice is to say that Nag brings his A-game to the fore and he is at the heart of all that is wrong with the families.
Rekha doesn’t have too big a part but she is evidently the most interesting character in the film. She is married to Dharam Raj but doesn’t share the same bed with the man. She is adamant to send her son, Parikshit to boarding school when apparently no one in the family seems too keen on that. She is taken aback when Bharat’s marriage is fixed and looks unhappy. She questions the efficiency of her husband and brother-in-law (Bal Raj) and openly admits that Bharat is the most enterprising of the lot. Dharam Raj never openly demeans her but his aloofness and his distancing himself from her point fingers at her conduct as a wife. We associate Rekha with flamboyance and she brings that same fervor here albeit with a difference. I thoroughly enjoyed her rendition of what is evidently the character of Draupadi. Brownie points must be given to Shyam Benegal for adding something interesting to the character and showing her in a very different light that is not strictly speaking pristine.
None of the characters in the film are clear black or white. Every character at some point in time in the film does something that is despicable. Benegal’s take may be based on a glorious epic but it is deeply rooted in the sensibility and characteristics of this generation. It is brimming with energy and the vibes that we are all too well aware of. To draw parallels with the epic will be a mistake as the film might be inspired by it, but it can in no way be a representation of it. This is the story of two defunct families and how they go about destroying each other’s existence. That’s exactly how one should look at this film. Kalyug is highly entertaining and engrossing. For a film that was released in 1981, It has aged a lot better than most other Hindi films of that year.
Unfortunately, it is not readily available for viewing. The only print of it that I could find was on YouTube and by no means was it an official version. The quality was pathetic but still, it served the purpose for the while. I am confident that if I view this film in a better print it will present more insight into the performances if not the narrative. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in watching truly good Hindi films.
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)
HERE IS THE LINK TO THE FULL FILM: