All films from INDIA
unless o/w noted.
1. Talaash (Reema Kagti, 2012)
2.Prem Sanyas / The Light of Asia (Franz Osten/Himanshu Rai, 1925)
3. Shiraz (Franz Osten, 1928)
4. Acchut Kanya / Untouchable Girl (Franz Osten, 1936)
5. 3 Idiots (Rajkumar Hirani, 2009)
6. Devdas (P.C. Barua, 1936)
7. Enthiran / Robot (S. Shankar, 2010)
8. Baazi / High Stakes (Guru Dutt, 1951)
9. Talvar / Guilty (Meghna Gulzar, 2015)
10. Do Bigha Zamin / Two Acres of Land
(Bimal Roy, 1953)
While it's the Bengali cinema of Satyajit Ray and, to a lesser extent, Ritwik Ghatak that has made the grade in the western arthouse circles for most of the past 65 years, it's obvious from this film and many others that Hindi cinema was operating in the same sphere at times, and on the same level if this terrific film is any indication. This is my first Roy film and I've yet to see much of the neo-realist influenced drama apart from the two names I just mentioned, so I wasn't sure what to expect but... it really does have much of the same bleakness and desperation - but always with at least a hint
of the positive - of something like early De Sica. In this case we have not a bicycle but a rickshaw, a rickshaw drawn by a poor farmer who has gone to Kolkota to earn the money he needs to pay off the rich landowner who's going to take his farmer and build a factory on it, and the film chronicles the moments of seeming good fortune interspersed with the many more scenes of despair and bad news as the man and his young son (working as a shoe shine boy, then a pickpocket) both struggle against insurmountable odds, while his wife back home scrapes by and tries to care for his dying father. Bleak but beautifully told, with relatively restrained music by Salil Choudhury; I guess in some ways this feels a bit over-familiar, and just a little more melodramatic in the end than I think it needs to be, but these aren't major issues.
11. Nagarik / The Citizen
(Ritwik Ghatak, 1952)
12. Ajantrik / Pathetic Fallacy
(Ritwik Ghatak, 1958)
13. Meghe Dhaka Tara / The Cloud-Capped Star
(Ritwik Ghatak, 1960)
I saw Ghatak's Subarnarekha
in 2015 and was pretty knocked out by it, but haven't gotten back around to his work since - now's the opportunity to hit at least his better-known other films, which as it turns out have much in common but also plenty of significant differences from each other.
, Ghatak's second feature, feels in may ways, after watching all three of these films, like a dry-run for Meghe Dhaka Tara
with a very similar family situation at the heart of the film. A family that was of some means has come down in the world in migrating to Kokota just after the partitioning of India, living now in a big but rather ruinous house in what seems to be a lower-middle-class neighborhood, a situation which touches the resigned, wistful mother and bitter father and two adult children in very different ways. Throughout the film son Ramu, a college graduate, continues to try getting jobs that are beneath him -- but still unattainable, while daugther Seeta can only really hope for marriage to Sagar (a distant relative I think .. subs weren't always clear) who has come to room with them but who also can't make ends meet. This has a very noir-like and claustrophobic feel for the most part, a vision of a city and a people and family on the edge, and if it offers a moment of hope at the end as the characters walk out in the rain towards a new life in an even lower-class situation, it's hard to share their optimism.
is the closest thing to a comedy that I've seen so far in Ghatak and indeed the first half to two-thirds is at times a pretty light-hearted affair, the story of a rural taxi driver, Bimal (a great Kali Bannerjee) and his one true love, his broken-down decades-old car which he has named Jagaddal. Rosenbaum in his review compares this to Jacques Tati in terms of the ways in which the sounds of the car evoke the character and mood of the film, as Hulot's car does in Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot
, though he admits he doesn't know if Ghatak had seen the Tati film. He certainly hadn't seen Dariush Mehrjui's Gaav
because it wasn't made for another decade, but that's the film that this reminded me of the most, in being a film about a man essentially in love with something non-human - a car or a cow, it doesn't matter in a sense, the love is all one way though the man in both films seems deluded into thinking otherwise. Jagaddal has served Bimal well for 15 years since the death of his mother - it seems the man has never been able to develop any other significant relationships - and the film shows us how Bimal copes with Jagaddal's advancing age and decrepitude, much as he must have coped with his mother's illness. This presents a very different character than I've seen in Indian cinema of this period, a man of existential loneliness, angry at the world but without the family support - even if tenuous as it seems to be in most Ghatak films - though as I said, it's also a pretty amusing film at times early on. And it makes some excellent use of sound - not just in terms of the car sounds but wind and road and the noise of the village and town, something Ghatak focuses on more than most filmmakers; these are films that I really wish I could see AND hear under better conditions than I have available to me.
Meghe Dhaka Tara
is as I mentioned in the first paragraph, similar broadly to Nagarik
in it's focus on a family unit and their struggles against poverty, and like that film there's a feeling that they have come down in the world, though it's not as specifically stated and the family lives in a rural environment outside of the big city. Here we have an ailing father who spouts poetry, a mother worried mostly about her sons, and children Mantu - stolid but perhaps not terribly ambitious or bright; Gita, vain and mostly interested in finding a husband; Shankar, a starry-eyed dreamer who wants to be a singer but mostly just wastes time; and Nita, the main protagonist, a bright student who defends Shankar from insults but who takes on all the burdens of the family herself when it becomes increasingly necessary. She's also in love with Sanat, another student who wants to marry her but turns away when she has to leave her studies and go to work.
It's all a pretty familiar story at this point even for someone who's seen as little Indian cinema as I have, but what makes this special is everything else - the acting, especially by Supriya Choudhury as Nita; the constant whipsawing between joy (most evident in Shankar's magical, longing songs) and gloom - rarely has a film made such expert use of that much-hated element, melodrama; the use of light and natural sound combine to create a really powerful sense of a world as it is, in flux and with no determined future, and a family that one can't rely on but can't abandon or hate either. I don't know if it's a tribute to the film's greatness or what, but being closer to the foolish lazy dreamer Shankar I nevertheless felt an enormous kinship with Nita throughout. I wish I had been smarter and looked at the copy I had first, which isn't that good - I'd forgotten that Criterion put this out recently. I suspect another viewing with better subs, picture and especially sound will improve this even above the sublime level I'd already put it on. Easily the best film of this challenge so far for me.