The Chekhovian situation is exacerbated to a very blatant satire, but the paradoxical Ray must have his cake, too. Here is a film as unrelenting in its severities as Bresson and the Gospels and Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (to which there are certain similarities), but its yoke is as light as the candy man’s gently bouncing his wares fore and aft on his rounds.
Initially, Ray states the obvious, cinema is an art of pictures, which gradually modulate into elements of drama that lead to cinematographic counterpoints like the playing kittens down left, Durga sweeping the yard center right, her mother brushing her hair on the shaded porch left of center background. The syntax is abrupt and entire, Durga and the girl stringing a bead necklace on the rooftop cuts to an up-angle of the candy man exiting the gate with the angle of the house behind him and the girls just visible above in the distance.
The rapid geometry of the train (imitated in Amarcord) is the introduction of modern life, contrasted with the Callahan abstractions of foliage and dragonflies on the lake. A uniformed brass band out of Mayberry plays its impression of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, the aged actress playing Auntie Indir is bent double and toothless, looks like Chief Dan George and Max Adrian with their ages combined, and peers out of nearly sightless eyes, but can thread a needle by lamplight, beams a broad smile and proudly wears a new shawl like a beauty in the Easter parade. This is a quintessential Ray position, explicated in Distant Thunder.
Greed, pride, stubbornness and other stumbling blocks are the theme, summed up in the Serpent King of the traveling players. A rich farmer summons the father to conduct a ceremony, which is canceled due to a family bereavement. A literary career is scarce to be imagined, yet the father has dreams of writing plays. In his absence a storm despoils the house, his daughter dies, his manuscripts are all but ruined.
The orchard went to a relative, seized for his brother’s debts. Little Durga filches a guava for old Auntie and is berated by the new owners. Eight or ten years later, the necklace is missing, she’s accused, an inveterate thief. Five rupees loaned to the mother are angrily written off in the same spirit. When Durga dies, a basketful of mangoes fallen in the storm is brought to the family as a farewell gift for their trip to Benares, leaving behind the father’s ancestral home for a place where a scribe can find incidental work among pilgrims.
Old Auntie’s new shawl is the final breaking point, her filching of oil and chilies from the kitchen is enough, but accepting a gift like a beggar is too much. She and the mother part ways, Durga and Apu find her dead among the bamboo. Her song is heard again as her body is borne away on a litter, all that she knew has gone before, she’s left behind “the poorest beggar on earth, Lord of the Crossings” speed her way, etc.
A folding umbrella and eyeglasses but not much else distinguish these gentlemen from men of antiquity. The local merchant sits in his stall and conducts business while reciting a text on waterfalls and mountains for an outdoor class of nine boys with slates, on which he angrily discovers them playing tic-tac-toe. He’s a patron of the arts, solicited for a contribution to the theatrical presentation meant to outshine a neighboring village.
An atrocious print advertised as “courtesy of the Academy Film Archive” and “restored” has new subtitles that speak of “brass-wear” and suchlike things.
The great central moment of the trilogy and its meaning are revealed in this bit of dialogue, “Apu, get up quickly and go get a pitcher of Ganges water,” which he does.
The photographic element is given full play. The structure describes the career of Apu’s father as a priest in Benares (subtitled as Banaras), which is directly compared to Apu feeding the temple monkeys, this comprising the first half. In the second, Apu betakes himself to school, earns a scholarship and goes to college in Calcutta, studying science (and English). This is expressly associated with the Fall and Expulsion, and coincides with the death of his mother.
Ray begins at once with the geometrical flurry of the train in Pather Panchali, this time on board as the girders of a bridge flash by. The dirt courtyard is now stone, the well a faucet. Their new home is a Benares apartment building. The father wears himself to death performing rites beside the Ganges for brass on a plate.
The mother repairs to the village of a great-uncle, who instructs Apu in the rites. The railroad line is visible from the gate.
The New Royal Press, a small shop, engages Apu as a pressman in Calcutta. By day, he attends classes. His professors are men of science shown in sequence. His room at the press has an electric light and wall switch, it’s the middle Twenties.
The subtle lake pictures of Pather Panchali are expanded in scope to include the Ganges, boats at the quay, etc. Ravi Shankar definitively includes himself among film composers such as Max Steiner, the incomparable, by the infinitely delicate associations his music achieves with the image.
Where, in the first film, Hitchcock is properly outdone by the perfection of musical tone replacing the mother’s outcry, the second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is closely echoed in the father’s other line, selling medicines. Vigo is perhaps indicated in the students’ riverbank holiday.
The one-eyed ointment-seller on the Calcutta train has balm for “falls”, and a leaflet on the return. The cinematographic element is a much closer thing, the water bag raised spouting from the well observed by Apu to one side, him running along the bank and hopping over a footbridge, tilts and pans. Drama is isolated to a question of ambience and observation, like Apu at the railroad station (with a tinge of Ford’s The Rising of the Moon), the controlling factor is a sense of economy which succeeds in making the film stand on its own even without exposition, i.e., “flashback” and résumé.
The title signifies perseverance, the globe of the world given to Apu by the headmaster leads to the third film of the trilogy.
The “restored” print from the Academy Film Archive is evidently a much-exhibited road print practically unserviceable yet duped as is and shown as described. Its primary virtue is that it preserves the original subtitles, which are deficient in only one respect, the singer’s text by the Ganges is omitted. “Metonymy” and “Synecdoche” are the figures of speech lectured on to a dozing Apu, who is ejected with his coaching friend for the nonce (the professor uses this occasion to define “euphemism” as “the saying of a disagreeable thing in an agreeable way”).
Alexander Mackendrick’s The Man in the White Suit is a perfect model for Ray to emulate in this perfect comedy (Tom Milne of Time Out Film Guide says the comparison to be made is with the “doggy charm” of Miracle in Milan, there’s no doubt of his position, he hasn’t one), nevertheless the bank clerk who finds The Philosopher’s Stone and turns iron into gold has a slightly different significance, perhaps, a far-sighted analysis of fame and fortune is discernible in both films, when the work (the stone) is literally digested by a subordinate (say, a critic) all the value is lost, in the meantime there is a crash in the gold market and then of prices on the stock exchange, a fascinating study.
Melomania (The Music Room) like dipsomania, the ruination of a rajah.
The first half comprises the flashback that tells the tale, the second brings about his destruction.
The director who, like Chaplin, understood the art of composing music for films, represents an impoverished gentleman of arts overtaken by the world, one recognizes the gesture from Cyrano de Bergerac, another great patron and critic-connoisseur.
The chandelier and the mirror can be found in one of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus.
The three performances might be compared with the three in Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours, which has a not dissimilar theme, a disaffected wife, and a rival.
Swiftly, at the opening, Apu leaves the City College of Calcutta without obtaining his baccalaureate (“I can’t afford it”) and is compared with the prodigal son, his interlocutor quotes in English something about liberty’s absence making a jungle, student demonstrators are heard outside demanding their rights.
He wakes in his rooftop walkup where the curtain over the window is a ragged bit of cloth and he’s fallen asleep while writing, so that the bottle of ink beside him on the bed has spilled. He daubs it up, a handheld camera films him outside briefly, it begins to rain and he does deep knee-bends.
“That’s another sign of greatness,” he tells the grave, sardonic landlord who climbs three flights of stairs to get three months’ back rent, 21 rupees, and who has observed the pictures of great men adorning the walls. H.G. Wells’ The Outline of History is on his bookshelf, a letter from “a Bengali literary journal” announces the publication of his short story, “A Man of the Soil”.
Calcutta, like Benares, is Sodom, a friendly man there is looking for a girl, here it’s Mr. Roy who gets A.K. Roy’s mail by mistake. Apu’s Intermediate Science is not sufficient for a grade-school teaching post. A job affixing labels is unbearable to look upon.
The actor’s face modulates through resemblances to the actors who played Apu’s mother and father and Apu himself. This is the culmination of Ray’s studies in this regard, beginning with Durga in Pather Panchali, a straightforward likeness of her mother (cp. Clarence Brown’s National Velvet most importantly).
Pulu tracks him down from the college, is he a forger in this den? No, he gives private lessons. Pulu invites him to a wedding in “an old-time village”. Apu’s novel extends his studies of village life, a young man sheds the past to become an artist but fails, turning to life. What, says Pulu, do you know about life, you’ve never been near a girl. Imagination is his recourse, “the hand with the pen”, etc. He plays the flute excellently well, hiding from the girl next door, the bride’s mother compliments him on his resemblance to Krishna, he has a movie-star smile.
Mainaak loses his wings, the fair one leads Apu on in his singing. The bridegroom is carried on in a palanquin, a Welles interior of this vehicle shows him stark mad. Apu is called upon to redeem the time and avert a curse. They’re all mad, in his opinion. Walking beside the river, he hears a baby crying in the house, does the noble thing.
The bridal bed is opulently adorned, the bride (Virginia’s age, whom Poe married) accepts poverty. They slip up the stairs to his rooms. Alone, she lifts her eyes to the wrack, outside on the ground a mother is teaching her child to walk. Aparna is reconciled.
She might have had an easy life. With a second pupil, he might afford a servant for her. Forsake the one, she says, to be home early.
They go to a dreadful film of demons and protectors. It becomes the rectangular rear window, very small, of their hackney cab, a luxury to be alone with her.
Home to her parents on the train she goes, he has a letter which consoles him in the railroad yard amid pigs and an infant sometime later, she is heartsick till he comes. An office co-worker divines Apu’s happiness, speaks of his own wife ironically as obedient to a fault.
Aparna’s brother announces she’s dead. The premature baby survived. Apu strikes the young man in quivering rage.
The sound of a clock ticking ceases in his grief, a blank screen bears the thought of suicide, a pig is hit by a train and dragged away.
He takes his novel elsewhere, to the ocean, to the forest. He follows Debussy’s advice, sees a sunup and drops the manuscript into a valley. Nevertheless, it’s not destroyed but fulfilled.
The boy, Kajal, patrols the countryside like Apu in Pather Panchali, in English short pants and pullover, wearing a mask (cp. Eastwood’s A Perfect World) and armed with a slingshot. He brings down a bird, flings it onto an old woman’s cooking vegetables, a man berates him.
Pulu finds Apu at a rocky stream near a coal mine, where the writer has found employment. Kajal is “a name, a symbol” to the father, who has never seen him and cannot forgive him for the mother’s death. He sends money for the boy’s care. The two young men in English varsity dress part company.
Apu’s name is vituperated by Kajal’s grandfather, five years have gone by. Apu appears, with a toy locomotive. The boy is disenchanted. Apu gives up, after the boy runs out the gate to hide from him. The grandfather raises his walking stick, but Apu stops him, “you’ll kill the boy.”
This scene strongly resembles the end of Antonioni’s Professione: Reporter in its look and dusty feel. The conclusion is prepared by the mammoth device of diverting the cinematography by way of Hollywood (vide the second job interview, out of a locus classicus) from the pictures in Pather Panchali and Aparajito to the picturesque as Apu and Pulu are rowed along the river to the wedding. The second device is whatever resemblance obtains in the young actor playing Kajal.
Sails on the river, women on the shore, as Apu sets out on foot. Kajal follows him at a distance, stopping when he does. Apu turns back. Will he take Kajal to his father? Yes. Will his father ever leave him? No. Who is Apu? Your friend. The grandfather looks on, holding the toy locomotive. Apu carries Kajal off on his shoulders.
The really complex soundtrack of Aparajito (birds, water, etc.) is increased by post-synch. The third “restoration” in the Academy Film Archive is once again no such thing but a dupe of a well-worn print, although the master is in better condition than the others.
A precaution against setting your wife on a pedestal is to take her away on a boat, in this case the unexpected result is an epiphany of the goddess by negation, with her attributes.
Ganashatru looks at the matter a bit more rationally, if you prefer it that way, the psychological valuation of a dream in this instance is worth the studied political evaluation in that.
Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide) interprets it as “a carefully nuanced study in religious obsession,” then considers “whether its very Indian concerns are of widespread interest remains a moot point.”
It opens, after the credits, precisely like the ending of Apu Sansar.
No comment is necessary, in the form this is the first story, the structure gives only the beginning here.
“The Lost Jewels”, all three films are a departure from Calcutta, this one a ghost story set “about thirty years ago”, the wife bedecked with jewels and nothing in the way of children, she retreats to her father’s house taking them with her.
The wife missed at first emerges here in the resemblance of the grown actress (and that of the hero’s mother), again a return to Calcutta against her wildness, the whole describing a sort of beneficial rustication.
Crowther (New York Times) received the shortened version gratefully, Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) understood the complete film as “problems of emancipation”.
Three Daughters, from Tagore.
De Sica’s Teresa Venerdì is a useful comparison, so also is Minnelli’s Gigi.
The film is a job of work for the Government of India “through Satyajit Ray”, the occasion is the author’s centenary. Two parts are necessitated, dramatic reconstruction very much à la Russell, and then assemblage of actual news footage. Narration and commentary (by Ray himself) provide a myriad of subtle writing problems, the thing is solved and shown, a history of Calcutta, the Anglo-Indian city par excellence, Tagore’s lineage, the artistic coevals in his family, the tedium of his schooling, his initial inspiration and early fecundity as writer and composer, his efforts as an educator, the Great War he reviles as nationalism gone rampant, his world travels, the great disaster of World War Two seen and seen beyond to a greater day and nevertheless his rejection of Europe henceforth as “fount of civilization”. That is Tagore.
Gitanjali, Yeats, the Nobel Prize, an early raga opera, the rare usage of process shots, Gandhi and Tagore.
Paterfamilias and nabob brings his family to Darjeeling for the sight of Kanchenjungha in the Himalayas, it is obscured by mist throughout their stay until the very eve of departure.
A chocolate bar and a pony ride provide the revelation, one granted to a boy, the other taken and tired of by a girl, “round and round”. Thus are the hearts of children and fathers turned one to another, the mountain is seen.
Nature must take its course, the mind has its summits, time is of the essence. Or, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Such are the exalted thoughts at high elevation, as a character remarks.
The camera might be a tourist casually observing incidental conversations in and above the town, pieced together in a casual way to make up the drama. An arranged marriage does not bode well, another is collapsing, a young man seeks an independent course.
The magnificent compositions figure amongst them a song of Tagore on this our exile, and of course the peak at last. The nabob is a ringer for Herbert Marshall, the arranged suitor is likewise made to resemble Raf Vallone, with a conscious image of nuance in mind. The temperate, agreeable vacation mood of the script has been noted even by Crowther, who saw this at its first showing in New York (Lincoln Center, 1966) and thought it a half-baked allegory of Independence.
In truth, the performances, screenplay and filming are all of a complicated piece settled formally by a sun-mist-sun observation on a single afternoon, with much advantageous camerawork in plain lighting outdoors, the musical come-and-go of characters along the walkways that overlook the deep valley sunlit or beclouded. The band concert is a bit of John Ford (Jolly Arts, says a shop sign), the general obscurity of overcast is studied in a long panning shot to a tree in silhouette, the young man laughs off patronage and bethinks himself, cut to sunny treetops and a slow tilt down to the broad trunks. The bird-watching theme in Pratidwandi has an avatar here in the nabob’s wife’s brother, a man with binoculars and an ear. Security like a dam against the flood is not the only basis of a marriage, migratory birds have their patterns, a photography buff lavishes his attentions on a modish beauty at a terrace café table in vain, and finds another.
Do you remember
how at Interlaken
we were waiting, four days,
to see the Jungfrau
but rain had fallen steadily.
just before train time
on a tip from one of the waitresses
to the Gipfel Platz
and there it was!
in the distance
covered with new-fallen snow.
The Wild West locale is apt, substitute stagecoaches for taxis and you have John Wayne in Winds of the Wasteland (dir. Mack V. Wright), Ray’s script has a right-hand-drive canvas-top 26-horsepower Chrysler and naturally evokes James Cagney in Taxi! (dir. Roy Del Ruth).
Mamoulian’s City Streets is practically cited near the beginning in the race with the train, and that completes the panoply (Bridges’ The Hireling has a certain similarity, and how The Expedition became Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is another story indeed).
The events are laid at or near the time of filming. Reviewers have a generally muddled idea of this, Time Out Film Guide not only missed Soumitra Chatterjee’s typically brilliant invention but goes so far as to claim he was “miscast”.
A movie theater in the sticks is among the attractions. Renoir’s The River is handsomely acknowledged in the one-legged suitor.
A very humorous situation treated very seriously, life in The Big City, father is an ex-teacher entering crossword contests, son is a clerk in a dodgy bank, daughter-in-law takes a job selling Autonit machines door-to-door, “putting Indian women out of their work”.
The tyranny of the workplace, the vanity of existence, redemption of the city for the very reason that it is big, manifold, it “contains multitudes”.
“You’d be a nitwit not to knit with an Autonit.”
Politics, the real, that sort of thing, poetry, moonshine, on the other hand.
Greatly instructed in these matters, the newspaper editor is received by his wife, The Lonely Wife, whose name is Charu for short, just before and just after the return of Gladstone to 10 Downing Street in 1880.
Howard Thompson (New York Times) said it was an “artistic masterpiece” but “not top-notch Ray”, Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) saw a “Jamesian” account of the “New Woman”, and so on.
The king of the well-appointed castle while his parents are away, a ragamuffin outside.
The inestimable advantage to a director that he has been a child at some point in his early days.
The great anecdote of the screenwriter, the art student and the tea planter.
“Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl.”
All a matter of missing your chance at the moment of truth and then asking for a rematch.
The die is cast, the screenwriter lets the girl go, she marries the planter, they all meet by chance when the screenwriter’s car breaks down.
The sun rises at his bidding, The Holy Man, all wisdom is at his beck, from first-hand experience.
Smoke gets in his eyes, and he fleeth.
Train ride to Delhi with a movie star, a disinterested lady journalist interviews him, The Hero, he is to receive an award there, probably not a contract because of a recent scandal just hitting the newspapers.
His life in films, other passengers including an ad man making a pitch.
Is there a god? The star is like Krishna, girl fans are his gopis, it’s said. The journalist lets a coin toss decide if she should approach him.
Is film acting illegitimate? “Brando, Bogart and Paul Muni” are cited in evidence.
There is a film business, and styles of acting, and young girls who desire a career in the movies, and there are people who think How Green Was My Valley is trash.
The journalist swallows her words, the star smiles for photographers.
A favorite theme, the Fall.
A comfortable anecdote, a strange location, the Rose Colony housing cripples and criminals, supervised by an ex-judge anxious for his soul.
He hires a private detective to trace an old song in a movie somewhere, “What Do You Know About Love?”
The detective is unmarried.
The judge is murdered, there’s a murder case associated with that movie, called The Poison Tree according to one set of scarcely literate subtitles.
The detective’s novelist friend is humorously called Dr. Watson at one point, the detective tours the Colony in disguise at first, as a Japanese named Okakura, like one of Mr. Moto’s ploys.
Between the searching descriptive long opening shot like something out of Ophuls to the climax gathering all the suspects in camerawork recalling Hitchcock’s Murder!, the technique is admirable throughout.
The residents of the Colony have a nickname for it, The Zoo.
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
The worst singer in the land meets the worst drummer in the forest, freeze-framed by a tiger they are granted three boons by the King of the Ghosts.
To eat all they wish and dress as they please.
To travel the world.
To please the world at their music.
Goopy’s morning raga harks to The Great McGonagall, the singing contest is contemporaneous with the auditions in The Producers, Kurosawa remembers the ghost apparitions in Dreams.
Goopy and Bagha avert a war and marry the princesses of the opposing realms.
Time Out Film Guide wished it shorter, undoubtedly finding the political satire hard going, what with the King of Halla a temperate sort bedrugged by his Minister with the aid of a Wizard to attack defenseless Shunti and its silentious people ruled by his brother.
Aranyer Din Ratri
The tone is infinitely removed from Annakin’s Three Men in a Boat, and identical. That is Ray’s sense of humor, he gets the most out of a thing, anything, but leaves it intact (and here it’s four men getting away from Calcutta for a spell). He is free to advance the theme in every direction, on a sure basis.
Sure enough, the interstices of the work reveal all the art (“wistful”, Howard Thompson, New York Times), you can “make it out” for yourself, as the hero of The Hero says, unless you’re Pauline Kael, who saw a critique of colonialism, “plangent”.
The boys meet the girls, who set them straight in no time at all, one way and another, the lustful fool, the shy intellectual, the blasé sophisticate, out in the woods among tribal locals, Days and Nights in the Forest.
The Adversary is an unknown quantity, seen in contrast to various known types. His brother, for example, is an admirer of Che Guevara, at least on paper. Our young man speaks well of the Vietnamese resistance, landing on the moon is a lesser thing because not unexpected, yet a Communist proselytizer bores him beyond words. He is a sometime medical student but not the hardy whoring college man his friend is, nor a cultural type like another friend in a film club where Swedish uncut films are a boring exercise in jaded smut.
He needs a job, but doesn’t want to leave the city as a traveling salesman for a pharmaceutical firm. Young men crowd a hot waiting room for a position, he erupts at length and overturns the tables of these moneychangers. And so, leaving behind a charming girl whose acquaintance he has made, he goes to the country and hears the bird his sister once pointed out to him in their childhood, also the praises of the Lord in a public square (his sister is the concubine of her employer, much to his wife’s displeasure, and aspires to become a model). The first part of the Calcutta trilogy ends with a sort of rustication, the way to the city is found some distance away. What is it about Calcutta, he and his friends ask themselves, the answer is “life”, they concur.
The imaginative life of the hero is figmented in brief inserts that reflect his mind racing forward or back at any time, these exactly convey the relation between a certain aspect of Hitchcock’s early style (in Murder!, for example) and Schlesinger’s Billy Liar. A hateful examination of the wealthy boss’s rich garments and cool poise resembles the camerawork in Hitchcock’s film as well.
The perceptual life, on the other hand, uses a handheld camera at times, like Polanski’s Repulsion, and invariably conveys with unfluttering ease whatever is to be found in the purlieus of the character, including some rather cheerful hippies from America who form a vague impression in his mind of a counterculture existence just this side of sleeping in the street.
A bomb goes off in a crowded theater just as Mrs. Gandhi is announcing economic steps in the newsreel, everybody flees, outside his watch falls off his wrist and breaks. Such incidents, of which there are many, make up his vague, inconsequential days and nights (with a dream sequence that reveals the girl to him) until at the rustic hotel he has an important letter to write, she insists he write first.
The expressive title is Limited (Company Limited). The system isn’t rotten, as cocktail-party chitchat sometimes has it, on the contrary, but the millions and millions of unemployed and disaffected youth in Calcutta (“the post-Independence generation”) become a conscious figure in the mind of a junior executive as the result of a crisis in the works. A shipment of ceiling fans for export cannot go out on schedule, the company will be penalized, he will not be promoted. A rift is devised between labor and management to shut down the factory briefly.
A revolutionary’s bomb is made to go off in the empty factory, badly injuring a watchman. The dispute is settled according to plan, the company resumes operations, the shipment arrives late by “act of God”.
The defect in the article is not mechanical but cannot be overlooked. The junior executive turns to an experienced personnel officer, the M.D. (Managing Director) is also informed. All goes well, the two weeks allow for a correction to the shipment, the fan has come out of the factory with an unpainted bottom.
Millions of jobs must come from somewhere, youthful alienation is a worldwide problem, violence in the streets is a chronic reflection, the junior executive (now a company director) lives well above it all but has had his bottom painted for him, and so have we all.
Ray’s split-screen exposition, color company advert, extraordinary camerawork and editing rather serve to point up his sheer mastery of rhythm in certain effects brought off without any effort whatsoever, like the back of a servant in the last scene entering and leaving the frame to administer a “fresh lime and soda” to a sweating employer who has “climbed the bitter steps” because the lift to his flat is out of order.
A beautiful, model documentary on a place much like heaven or a number of other places evoked naturally, from a point on the map to Everest and Kanchenjungha, flora, natural economy, social, religious features, life of the country, the New Year’s ritual, ceremonies, children.
The Inner Eye
A vividly talented artist whose name is Binode Bihari Mukherjee, a glance at his life and works, both marked as it were by the one capital event of his middle age, the loss of sight.
This necessitates a complete change of style, even perhaps (who should say) an improvement, or gives rise to one.
Distant Thunder, dark clouds, rain, clearing (credits).
De Sica’s Two Women (La Ciociara) is a study of the peasantry in wartime, and very useful for this.
The Brahmin’s vocation comes to him in rather the same way as Hitchcock’s second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much reveals more to a medical practitioner’s work than cut-and-dried services.
The meaning of the Japanese onslaught in 1941 is that it presses upon the novice physician and priest a vocation symbolized by hungry multitudes descending upon him at the close, an image that disconcerted many critics, so that Canby (New York Times) speaks of a “social awakening”, Milne (Time Out Film Guide) of “a call to revolution”, and Kehr (Chicago Reader) of “a curiously unmoving social document”.
This image is yet another echo of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the allusion to Hawks’ Scarface is self-evident.
The war is alluded to briefly in terms of the Mahabharata, the King of India is said to be fighting the Germans and the Japanese, where precisely these villagers do not know.
The Brahmin’s handling of the early cholera outbreak is humorously reflected in Ganashatru.
The Golden Fortress is a boy’s memory of centuries before, it’s all a ruin now, but there were peacocks and camels and jewels and a war.
Thieves want to kidnap him for those jewels, he is taken on a journey from fort to fort, a parapsychologist and a private detective are on the case.
In that long-ago time, his father was a jeweler who lived within the fortress, a kind of city was there.
The background resonances of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (second version) are matched by overtones of Apu Sansar at the close.
Nevertheless it’s a comedy, very funny, copiously filmed on location from Calcutta to the desert sands reached by train, taxi and camel.
An extremely brilliant, sophisticated method is deployed in which the essential metaphor of the literary life is kept strictly out of the theme and only participates by occasional allusion, so that to make a completely detailed story very short indeed, a young man sets up in business for himself and makes a fateful cast of dice vis-à-vis his hack schoolchum, whose sister goes into the bargain.
This device, this understanding lends a supernal swiftness to the telling, if you construct a reverse viewpoint and see the early days of his career as metaphorical, the endless applications with letter, photograph and postal order that pile up high in astronomical numbers on the desk of a functionary who, like the examiner at Calcutta University, cannot read his cramp hand. And even if you don’t, Ray has achieved a seeming ne plus ultra of speaking images in rhythmic sequence, every one a completely satisfactory rendering of accounts swiftly succeeded by the next, from first to last.
The jokes are too many for counting. The fellow student is driven by circumstances to seek his taxi permit from a hack politician, a Member of Parliament and quite a joke himself. Ray’s sheer ebullience in the first half is communicated to many of the performances, pity and disdain set the stage for the furioso conclusion, which all ends happily in a worried father mopping his brow with the hem of his robe in the night, greatly relieved.
There is a useful functionality in Ray’s business sense applied to Walsh’s They Drive by Night, a banana peel introduces our young man to his benefactor, the opening scene of a baccalaureate examination might be said to conserve the most rational analysis of Vigo’s Zéro de conduite, and if the hero of Pratidwandi somewhat resembles Trintignant “in a certain light”, Léaud as Antoine Doinel is similarly evoked here at times.
The Calcutta trilogy is especially remarkable for the purely formal elements of Ray’s consideration from one film to the next, revolving in his mind as identical and yet composed in different structures each time, so that three distinct films having a sort of musical affinity share a thematic unity, the same balls in varied patterns, the same circus clowns in fantastic guises make for a whole new show every time and yet a familiar one, as this bit or that theme emerges yet again in a different key, with a different tonal analysis.
The richness of this way of working is belied by the laughter which is his principal aim, but Ray is unusually candid about his films, for a director, as far as it goes, and calls The Middleman his “bleakest”.
Balasaraswati, eminent practitioner of the dance.
She is Krishna’s mother by the seaside, pleading for the infant to return.
In the studio, a devotee of Shiva, “stricken with love” and admiring.
Notes on the dance, biography of the dancer.
Shatranj Ke Khilari
The king who will not hear his subject’s plea, the nabobs who will not see to their wives, they are swept off the board.
The Chess Players, hobbyists, the scourge of the nation.
Joi Baba Felunath
“Truth”, says the popular novelist, “is stronger than fiction.”
At Benares on holiday, the great detective Feluda is given a case, the mystery of a missing bejeweled Ganesha (The Elephant God).
Holmes, Poirot, Bomkesh, Tintin (with Captain Haddock) are all named but not Charlie Chan, who has Captain Felu’s gift with an arcane lingo.
“An extraordinary crook” arrives by motor yacht (cf. Huston’s The Mackintosh Man) to pay obeisance to a guru on the Ganges.
Chatterjee’s evocation of Harold Pinter is quite striking.
The racket is stolen art for foreign markets, Ray has Devi for the statue of Durga decorated as before, and the wristwatch joke from Blake Edwards’ The Party.
Hirak Rajar Deshe
A very wicked king who burns books is right from Distant Thunder, Goopy and Bagha travel to Hirak and aid the one teacher in the realm, whose school, the only school, has been closed (cf. Renoir’s This Land Is Mine).
The Kingdom of Diamonds, Hirak is swimming in them, the murderous king has a professor with a brainwashing machine, a court astrologer who forecasts the king’s bidding, a court poet who rhymes his pleasure, a court jester who amuses the tyrant, and ministers paid off in diamonds to toady.
Evidently The Road to Hirak is indicated, a second extremely fortunate musical with the heroes, now ten-years-married to the princesses and eager once more to see the world.
Lang and Clair are easily recognizable in the easy color rendering of, once again, a biting political critique, with a component of Furie’s The Ipcress File, the king’s apophthegms on work and play, a very funny sense of humor and the songs, of course.
This is an attempt to cast a constant theme in the distinct terms of the Fall, to educe a very distant understanding, or at the very least to present a few useful images.
An unfaithful wife receives her lover one afternoon, he gives her young son Pikoo paper and pens to draw the flowers in the garden. There is a squall, Pikoo’s grandfather expires in an upstairs room, the boy resumes his drawing in a chair on the verandah, looking at a flowerpot.
The young daughter’s wedding must be prognosticated, the Brahmin must be served, lugging a heavy sack, splitting a heavy trunk with a spindly axe, the poor man keels over.
In dead of night, the Brahmin drags the body away.
This is generally understood by reviewers as a study of caste.
A complicated mirror to Charulata, a consummate masterwork as one would say, an intricate marvel of analysis on what is after all a commonplace node of history at any time, consciously ebbing and flowing, in which the Ibsenite quotient is very strong, so that it comes as no surprise that Ray’s next film should be An Enemy of the People.
The maharajah renews his state on rational, that is to say reasonable principles unavailing or not as a practical problem, the radical takes his course on a national platform with psychological overtones also reflected in the Ramayana, a situation of comic absurdity takes a violent, unheeding turn and the point is lost.
The Home and the World, and all the various oppositions of thought that spring therefrom, reduced to a relatively simple understanding in the particular instance taken as an example, a useless understanding in a way, applied to the instance, but a large insight gleaned from the straightforward analysis, to say the least.
The poet, playwright, printer, publisher and illustrator, treated on the occasion of his centenary through the auspices of Satyajit Ray Productions and the Government of West Bengal.
An absolute masterpiece on Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People treated as a temple variant in the Hindu town of Chandipore, very small, with a newspaper and a young literary magazine and a printer and publisher and a priest and a municipal chairman, as he is described.
As in early practice Ray borrowed Western models for his characters at times, so here Dr. Gupta is played by Steve Allen, as it were, his wife by Gloria Swanson, the assistant editor by Jack Carson perhaps, even Barnard Hughes as the landlord, if you like.
It’s a species of wit, like his English rhymes and puns, the cast largely reappear in Shakha Proshakha.
The critical response appears to have been negligible.
The metaphor is corruption in the business world, this wipes out a generation of good works, grandfather is a dodderer, father is dying, the sons are no match for this, described variously in their lives as calmly corrupt, nervously frivolous, abstemiously good or naughtily remote, Branches.
The film is quite up-to-date, Canby couldn’t make it out in his New York Times review, similarly Time Out Film Guide, etc.
Associations are established with Dreyer’s Ordet, also Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata, at some distance.
The necessary image is of a lunar eclipse, the night of nights. The world being what it is, what is a wife and mother to know of it? She has an uncle, back from the dead and departed after thirty-five years of travel, he knows the score. Check his passport, says her husband.
The second image is of a Spanish bull on a cave wall tens of thousands of years in the past. This is the ne plus ultra of art, for the uncle, he gave up a career to take field notes for the UN and write a book about his experiences in America, An Indian among Indians. He could not paint a better bull, therefore he has devoted himself instead to an understanding of civilization and its discontents, or its opposite.
The husband invites a lawyer over, to question this supposed uncle.
Ray as student and disciple of John Ford knows America about as well as anyone, which therefore disposes him quietly away from the raucous cornucopia of Bollywood satire.
His jokes are tens of thousands of miles away from the common lot, hence the title, The Stranger. Rod Serling might have written the screenplay (“No Time Like the Past”). The very most civilized expression of kultur meets that of culture on honest grounds, a sort of duel is fought, but there is no contest and Ray is propelled along the force of the joke in a steady stream like an artesian well or a geyser.
Compare his tale of Pikoo in the garden with the opening scene before the credits for the scale of an imagination full of ideas that are leisurely examined over the years from every point of view, all his own.
The color technique is of course so perfect as to occur identically with the dialogue by an intervening rhythm very efficient also in the opening scene, a very telling style that rarely calls attention to itself yet is easily among his best work.