This is the story of Shyam Benegal's Nishant, a well-made film which portrays the state of those times' rural India. The film depicts a reality which is a bit difficult to see. The proceedings are very serious and the film is dark and dim.
In a feudal village in the 1940s, the village’s new schoolmaster’s wife, Sushila (Shabana Azmi), is abducted for the enjoyment of the zamindar’s cruel, depraved younger brothers. The schoolmaster tries to recover her through official channels, including the local police official (Kulbushan Kharbanda), but meets everything from indifference to abject fear of the powerful zamindar (Amrish Puri). In the meantime, Suhsila tries to make the best of her imprisonment, demanding concessions like trips to the temple to worship and access to her own kitchen where she can prepare her meals with some dignity. The zamindar's youngest (and most uncertain) brother, Vishwam (Naseeruddin Shah) shows signs of being in love with her, to the chagrin of his wife Rukmini (Smita Patil), who bristles at the possibility that Sushila may come to replace her. Eventually, the local pandit – through most of the film another pawn of the zamindar – incites the schoolmaster and the rest of the town to revolt against the zamindar's tyrrany, with indiscriminately tragic results.
Girish Karnad is excellent as the tormented teacher who loses his wife and is unable to get her back. Shabana Azmi is outstanding as Sushila in a restrained and deep act. I particularly liked her outburst at her husband. Her anger was so easy to relate to. Smita Patil makes her acting debut with this very film and though her part is small, she makes the best of every scene she appears in. Amrish Puri is successfully frightening as the merciless Zamindar. Naseeruddin Shah is as always wonderful and his character is very sympathetic despite the conflict it creates. The boy who plays Sushila's son is extremely cute.
This movie is a timeless classic. One more feather to the cap of the director Shyam Benegal. This movie was nominated for Cannes film festival and unfortunately did not win any award.
Nishant is a good film, a disturbing, real and engaging piece. What is particularly likeable about the film is its unpredictability right until the very final scenes. But the main complaint is that it was a tad too slow. While in the second half it gets far more enjoyable, and the film is thoroughly engaging thanks to its story and fantastic execution, the pace was still somewhat dragged, and at times will make you like squirming in my seat. Nonetheless, it's a worthy effort. To those who expect to be purely entertained, this may not be the right film, but those who appreciate artistic excellence will definitely enjoy watching this picture.