Movie: Kalyug (1981, Hindi, India)

Review of the classic 1981 Indian movie – Kalyug by Shyam Benegal. Starring Shashi Kapoor, Rekha, Ananth Nag and Victor Banerjee.

Kalyug, based in the late-1970s/ early-1980s, is a taut and powerful story of fierce rivalry between two business families (related to each other) in the days of the license-raj in India. The story has very direct parallels with the mythological epic Mahabharta.

Directed by Shyam Benegal, Kalyug has an array of stars – from the mainstream/ popular movies as well the arthouse/ parallel cinema. Kalyug, released in 1981, received critical acclaim and was a box-office success as well.

Kalyug (1981 Movie) - DVD Cover Image

Directed byShyam Benegal
Released in1981
GenreDrama, Thriller
  • Shashi Kapoor as Karan Singh
  • Rekha as Supriya
  • Anant Nag as Bharat Raj
  • Victor Banerjee as Dhan Raj
  • Raj Babbar as Dharam Raj
  • Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Bal Raj
  • Sushma Seth as Savitri
  • Om Puri as Bhavani Pandey
  • A K Hangal as Bhisham Chand
  • Supriya Pathak as Subhadra
  • Akash Khurana as Sandeep Raj

and many more known names like Amrish Puri and Vinod Doshi.

Music byVanraj Bhatia
Produced byShashi Kapoor
Written byShyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, and Satyadev Dubey
Length2 hours 32 minutes

The Plot

Two business families (related to each other) run heavy engineering/ fabrication firms and often compete with each other. Orders from government bodies are coveted by both the business families.

The first family (Puranchand family) – let us call it the P-family, has three brothers in their 30s and 40s. The third brother, Bharat Raj (played by Anant Nag) is ambitious, sharp, and competitive and activily runs the business. The eldest brother, Dharam Raj (played by Raj Babbar) is more interested in his race horses. The second brother Bal Raj (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) is a cheerful person, still besotted by his wife.

Savitri (played by Sushma Seth) is mother of the three brothers. Supriya (played by Rekha), the wife of the eldest brother is the boss of the household. As the leaders in the respective domains, Supriya has a very close bond with her yourger brother-in-law, Bharat. The family also has some youngsters of the next generation. This large family lives in a huge mansion, .

The second family (Khoobchand family) – let us call it the K-family, has two brothers, also in their 30s/ 40s. The business is actively run by the elder brother Dhan Raj (played by Victor Banerjee). The excitable younger brother Sandeeep Raj (played by Akash Khurana) is being mentored in the ways of business. The two brothers live in a bungalow along with their ageing parents, Dhan Raj’s wife and children. Karan Singh (played by Shashi Kapoor), a middle-aged bachelor, is a close confidant and runs the business (like a CEO) along with Dhan Raj. He is treated like a family member on most occasions.


At the start of the movie, the K-family (in competition with the P-family) wins a large engineering contract from the government. The P-family is upset and lodges a request for re-evaluation of the contract. The award of the contract is reversed. This begins a spiraling set of moves and counter-moves, each one becoming more unethical and harsher than the previous (like covertly sponsoring  a workers’ strike in the factory of the other family, bribing managers of the rival company to reveal business secrets). Soon there is violence and death, including the death of some younger members of the families.

In parallel with the business rivalry, we also get hints/ details of other dynamics – like:

  • past relationship between Karan Singh (Shashi Kapoor) and Supriya (Rekha)
  • questionable parentage of the three brothers of the P-family
  • close bonding between Supriya (Rekha) and Bharat Raj (Anant Nag)
  • the truth behind Karan Singh’s birth

At the surface, both the families maintain a some kind of lukewarm relationship – they attend each other’s family functions and funerals. The elders on both sides advise restraint, but the hot-headed Bharat Raj (encouraged by his sister-in-law) and Dharam Raj (supported by Karan Singh) are on the path of destruction. Karan Singh usually comes up with willy plans (including unethical ones) that are primarily tied to business gains, but hesitates when it comes personal vendetta and violence.

At the end, the business running brothers of one family are all dead and in the other family they are emotionally devastated or disillusioned. It looks like time for the next generation to be groomed.

A Classic

The movie is brilliant – taut narrative, exceptional acting, great cinematography. The script has been authored by Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Satyadev Dubey, each one of them is a master.

Many things are hinted and not explained, letting the audience reach their own conclusions.

Unlike the Mahabharata, where there are good guys (Pandavas) and bad guys (Kavravas), in Kalyug, both sides seem to have bad / grey guys.

Since the 1980s, I have watched this movie many times (maybe 4-5 times), and expect to watch it again in the future. Knowing the story does not spoil the charm of watching it.

Being acquainted with Mahabharata may help, but is not necessary. However, you need to pay attention while watching the movie because of the large number of characters and the complex relationships.

It will be best to watch the movie without advertisements (DVD), otherwise you could lose the thread. It does not matter whether you see it on the big screen or the small screen.

Your comments are welcome, especially if you have seen the movie!

Author: Rajesh Naik

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6 thoughts on “Movie: Kalyug (1981, Hindi, India)”

  1. The film is based on Real Life Situations happened in an industrialist family.

    The character of Seth Khoobchand in this film has been played by Late Seth Vinod Lalchand Doshi, who partly inherited the Walchand Group with powerful organizations like Premier Automobiles, Hindustan Aeronautics, Hindustan Construction, Ravalgaon Sugar Farm, and the likes.

    The film and theater artists were provided active support by Seth Vinod.

    Shri Satyadeve Dubey-ji and the other artists used to camp at the Walchand Terrace Flats at Tardeo, Mumbai.

    It is very common that things which happen in real life are depicted in reel life later on, but sometimes, as in the case of this film, ironically the plots shown in reel life did happen in real life after the film was made.

    1. WOW.What an array of actors. Storyline sounds very intense, typical Shyam Benegal.

      Thanks Sanjeev for the insights ..reel life to real life.

      Have ordered for the movie. By the way, there is one more Kalyug ..of Mohit Suri make. Wonder whether this is an adaptation of the original, or the name is just coincidental.

  2. I bought the DVD and watched it on the last weekend. Loved the movie.
    Such a big cast of great actors. Each character sketched out distinctly. Lots of stuff not spoken but expressed; one has to watch the movie intently to capture the nuances. Moves and counter moves between the 2 warring families; some of them coming literally from the same umbilical cord 🙂

    Past Relationship between Rekha and Shashi Kapoor only expressed thru a photograph on the Shashi’s table; and one sly glance.

    Amazing movie for its times. Absolute finesse. Good to see these fabulous actors in their younger times.

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