Benegal extended the feudal oppression plot of his debut ‘Ankur’ in larger canvas. The film tells the story of a feudal Andhra Pradesh village of 1945 where an oppressive zamindar and his good for nothing three sons exploits underprivileged peasants. It’s dark and lawless portrayal where landlord father and sons exploit the peasants’ women at night as if their own property. A newly arrived school master’s wife was kidnapped and raped by landlord’s sons and was kept as mistress. Helpless and frustrated school master fails to get support of any villager to get justice. Gradually along with a priest he builds the slow unrest and in a dramatic turn uncontrollable mass revolt against the tyrant and his family.
But unlike impressive ‘Ankur’ the film lacks Benegal’s control on many things. The personal story of earlier film builds the drama with conflict and contemplative contrast but here it’s all missing so terribly. The plot is weak, narration is slow, stretching and repetitive, melodrama and performances seem rather too filmy and commercial. There’s many loopholes including the chaotic ending. He failed to get sublime performance from all the actors and almost repeated their characters- Shabana is again an exploited woman, Sadhu Mehar again as exploited innocent drunkard and so is the rest.
With ‘Nishant’ Benegal brought Amrish Puri to screen as an archetypal tyrant face of evil whose presence remained mandatory in all Benegal films till his death. Benegal made him a man you love to hate. He’s found most impressive in Benegal’s ‘Suraj ka Saatwan Ghoda’- one of my favorite Benegal films along with ‘Bhumika’. ‘Nishant’ has fine cast of Shabana Azmi, Girish Karnad, Naseer, Anant Nag, Mohan Agashe Satyadeb Dubey and introduced Smita Patil but Benegal made all of them so flat. In his debut ‘Ankur’, there’re less characters and all of them have shades of grey unlike this second film where every one is either too black or too white which made less room for character development.
One of the weakest Benegal film for me.