Ankur was a unique feature of its time - real, poetic, genuine and disturbing. It did not have the songs, the melodrama, and the exaggeration one was used to see in Hindi movies. Instead it had an unusual and gripping storyline portrayed with striking maturity and realism. The conflicts within a village, the struggle of strong women against the patriarchal society and the difficulty of balancing between emotional happiness and tradition... Shyam Benegal actually established a new genre within the Hindi film industry at the time, commonly known as 'New Wave Cinema', while today people use to describe it as 'Parallel Cinema'.
Anant Nag is Surya, a bored college student who whiles his days away obtaining mediocre but passable grades. He wants to go onto further studies but his father, a zamindar, senses that his son just wants to escape from the village. He refuses Surya's request for further education and forces him into a marriage with a child bride, Saroj (played by Priya Tendulkar). Since she is a child, Surya has to wait until she attains puberty before she can move into his house and thus consummate their marriage. Surya moves into his own cottage where he begins to take control of a certain part of the land without the irritation of his father's daily interference. At his own house, there is a servant, Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi), an attractive young woman. She belongs to the untouchable caste so those of other caste never touch or eat the food that she cooks (except for Surya, who is attracted to Lakshmi). Widening the divide between them is Kishtaya (Sadhu Meher), the husband of the servant. He is deaf and mute, which makes the rather arrogant Surya feel a little superior and gives him confidence to pursue Lakshmi. She spurns his advances, showing a devotion to her husband even though Kishtaya is a drunk who spends whatever money they have on drinks and gambling. When Kishtaya is caught stealing from Surya's land, he is given a most humiliating punishment. The hair on his head is shaved off and he is put on a donkey and taken for a ride around the village. Unable to face the daily grind of his life, Kishtaya walks away from home and does not come back. Lonely and insecure, Lakshmi gives in and responds to Surya's affectionate feelings.
Nag is good but occasionally his acting is one-note (blank expression, monotonous voice, etc.). On the other hand, he is excellent when he has to portray the arrogance of his rich brat character and the fascination that his character has with Lakshmi. Dressed authentically as a poor servant, Azmi does not look like a model in the film but her beauty captivates every frame she is in. Her performance is moving and heart-wrenching.
For all the students of film sound out there, "Ankur" is a classic example of a film where the sound plays an important part in making it a great viewing experience. Little focus is placed on the background score/music, allowing the natural sound effects to take center stage. Jayesh Khandelwal's sound effects are beguiling. They are sounds of wildlife that form part of the everyday lives of Surya and Lakshmi. Khandelwal weaves into the story crisp sounds of birds chirruping, leaves rustling, the soft blow of the wind and the rhythmic pump of water flowing in the fields. While Satyadev Dubey's dialogues are very good, it is Aziz Qaisi's dialect input that makes a huge impact. His input ensures that the dialogues remain realistic and relevant to the area of India that the film is set in i.e. Hyderabad.
It's a story of a battle between riches and poor which deals with discrimination and gives messages in bringing about radical changes in society. The film is well written, and describes the true color of village life, and emotion and sentiments of the people, including the inner conflict, and it also throws light on the social inequality and stigma that a female has to carry, especially in sexual matters. This is a realistic and hard hitting film by Benegal, which has been shot masterfully. A Must-watch for everyone!