Shyam Benegal was born on 14 December 1934, in Aliwal, Hyderabad. He graduated in Economics from Nizam College, Osmania University, Hyderabad. It was here that he formed the Hyderabad Film Society. Benegal started his career working in 1959 as an Advertising copywriter, at Bombay advertising agency, Lintas Advertising, where he steadily rose to become a creative head. Meanhwile, he made his first documentary in Gujarati, Gher Betha Ganga (Ganges at Doorsteps) in 1962. In 1963, Benegal started his brief stint another advertising agency called ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion). During his advertising years, he directed over 900 sponsored documentaries and advertising films.
Benegal made his first feature film Ankur in 1973, starring the debutants Shabana Azmi and Anant Nag. The movie was a huge critical success, receiving several awards, and it even did well commercially. Nishant (1975) and Manthan (1976) were Benegal’s next two films, which again gained critical and commercial success. He then made a biopic, Bhumika (The Role) (1977), broadly based on the life of well-known Marathi stage and film actress of the 1940s, Hansa Wadkar. This film is, arguably, the best of Benegal’s work. Benegal’s spirits were soaring high with his continuous success. Benegal was involved in tapping fresh talent mainly from the FTII and NSD like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Amrish Puri.
Benegal made Junoon (1978) and Kalyug (1981), both with Shashi Kapoor. The former was a huge hit and bagged awards too, while the latter wasn’t as big a hit. Arohan (1982), Mandi (1983) and Trikal (Past, Present, Future) (1985) met with critical success. Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992) and Samar (1998) were among his Benegal’s great works. He even made a trilogy on Indian Muslim women, viz. Mammo (1995), Sardari Begum (1996), and Zubeidaa (2001). All had failed to do commercially well. Benegal’s last film was the biopic Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005). It couldn’t live upto the expectations the audience had from him. Benegal is now involved in making Mahadev Ka Sajjanpur, starring Shreyas Talpade & Amrita Rao. The movie is set to release in 2008. Next, Benegal will direct an epic musical Chamki, about love, jealousy and betrayal. The music will be composed by A.R.Rahman and lyrics by Javed Akhtar. Chamki, to be produced by Chetan Motiwalla, is in the casting stage and is scheduled to go on floor in October 2008. One of Benegal’s upcoming projects is a film based on Noor Inayat Khan - a descendant of Tipu Sultan, who served as a British-Indian spy during the World War II.
Benegal was honoured with Padma Shri in 1976, Padma Bhushan in 1991, The Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 2005, on 8th August 2007 and Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 2004.
? Shyam Benegal is the cousin of Guru Dutt. Benegal’s paternal grandmother and Guru Dutt's maternal grandmother were sisters. ? Shyam Benegal is married to Neera Benegal. ? Besides Feature Films, Benegal has also made several documentaries including Child of The Streets (1967), Nehru (1983), Satyajit Ray (1984) and Nature Symphony (1990). ? He is only director to have won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi five times. ? Between 1966 and 1973, Benegal also taught at Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and later remained its Chairman twice, (1980-83) and (1989-92). ? He was awarded the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, which enabled him to work at Children Television Workshop, New York, and later at Boston WGBHTV. ? In the early 70's, Benegal made 21 film modules for Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), sponsored by UNICEF. ? He successfully directed serials like Yatra (1986) for the Indian Railways, and of course one of the biggest projects ever undertaken on Indian Television, Bharat ek Khoj (1988), a serial based on Nehru's Discovery of India. ? Benegal also owns a production company called 'Sahyadri Films'. ? He has also authored three books based on his own films, “The Churning” with Vijay Tendulkar in 1984 on Manthan; “Satyajit Ray”, 1988 based on his Satyajit Ray, Filmmaker; and “The Marketplace” in 1989 on Mandi. ? He is also involved with the Mumbai based film school Whistling Woods International as chairman of the academic council.