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aka The Seedling 1973 136’ col Hindi d/s Shyam Benegal p Lalit M. Bijlani pc Blaze Film dial Satyadev Dubey c Govind Nihalani m Vanraj Bhatia lp Anant Nag, Shabana Azmi, Sadhu Meher, Priya Tendulkar, Mirza Qadir Ali Baig, Agha Mohammed Hussain, Hemant Jeshwantrao, Shesham Raju, Aslam Akhtar, Syed Yakub, Jagat Jeevan

Benegal’s successful feature debut is set in feudal AP and consolidated the New Indian Cinema movement. The politically inflected melodrama tells of a newly married urban youth, Surya (Nag, in his Hindi film debut), who is sent alone to his rural home to look after his ancestral property. Finding himself in the role of the traditional landlord, he has an affair with Lakshmi (Azmi, in her extremely powerful film debut), the young wife of a deaf- mute labourer (Meher), and she becomes pregnant. Her husband, believing the child to be his, goes to tell the landlord the good news but Surya, consumed by his guilt and afraid of being exposed, beats the man almost to death. Lakshmi then turns on her former lover with a passionate speech calling for a revolutionary overthrow of feudal rule. In the last shot, a young boy throws a stone at Surya’s house and then the screen turns red. Azmi and Nag launched a new style of naturalist acting deploying regionalised Hindi accents (here Hindi inflected by a Hyderabadi accent) that came to be associated with Benegal’s subsequent work. It also helped define a ‘middle-of-the-road’ cinema which adapted psychological realism and regionalism (emphasised in the fluid camera style) to the conventions of the mainstream Hindi movie. Having cherished the project to make this film for a long time, Benegal eventually found a producer, a distributor of advertising films for whom he had previously made commercials. The producer also backed Benegal’s next films.