Asoni Sonket (d:-Satyajit Ray) (Distant Thunder, 1973)

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Bengali films, Bhibuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay, Sandhya Roy, Satyajit Ray, Soumitro Chattopadhyay

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Satyajit Ray’s ‘Asoni Sonket’ (1973) depicts life in a village with the specter of famine looming large. When rice gets scarce, people stoop to the level of consuming snails in order to survive…the narrative progresses through Soumitro Chaterji, the lone Brahman in the village. He is a teacher, physician and priest – an all-in-one for the poor villagers who address him affectionately as Panditji. This languid paced color film by master filmmaker Satyajit Ray shows rural life and the frailties of human beings, especially of women who even becomes willing to trade flesh for a few morsel of rice for the family. It was based on a story by famed writer Bhibuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay.

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In Asoni Sanket, Ray uses symbolism in some sequences (butterflies fluttering etc …) that were completely lost on me. I also found echo/references to the works of Mrinal Sen in the thematic sameness with ‘Baisey Shravan’ (1959), or the use of documentary footage and stills as in Sen’s ‘Calcutta Seventy-One’ (1972).  The film ends with a message on the screen that “during the famine of 1943, five million people just collapsed and died…it was mostly man made…the times were truly terrifying….”

Soumitro Chaterji in the pivotal role acts competently. The other central performers were Bobita and Sandhya Roy.

Some of the sequences are quite stark. The sequence of the girl dying towards the end is conveyed using a freeze frame and a close up of her eyes. Inspite of the bleakness of the subject, the film ends on an optimistic note with the wife of Soumitro announcing the arrival of their child. The rural backdrop has been evoked with good photography.

Writing in the book MANIK AND I (Penguin India, Page 360) Ray’s wife Bijaya Ray mentions that “While Manik was shooting Asani Sanket, Babu(Sandip Ray) had recoreded the filming in his 16mm camera and turned it into a film called THE MAKING OF ASONI SANKET. It was a well-made film, and will have historic value one day.”

ASANI SANKET won the Golden Bear for Best Picture at the Berlin Film Festival in 1973.

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 Rating: 3 out of 5

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