Archive for the ‘100 remarkable Indian films’ Category

To celebrate India’s 70 years of Independence, my pick of seventy films from my viewing list ….

  1. AGNISNAAN (Bhabendranath Saikia, Assamese, 1985)

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Dr. Bhaben Saikia is credited to have introduced the parallel cinema movement in Assam. He made eight National award winning films besides being a prolific writer. I have just seen two of his films viz., SAROTHI & the above mentioned film, both of which left a big imprint on me. Why I like the film? Based on his own story, this is an unusual & powerful revenge saga of a dedicated wife (played by the brilliant Moloya Goswami) when her businessman husband takes in a new young wife in his life. The director however contends that it was her physical need that drove her towards infidelity.

  1. ANAND (Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Hindi, 1971)

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Whether the inspiration came from Kurasawa’s IKIRU or modeled on the personality/friendship with Raj Kapoor, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ANAND is his finest film. Why I like the film? Great acting by the two leading actors, memorable dialogues & evergreen songs ….

  1. AKALER SANDHANE (Mrinal Sen, Bengali, 1980)

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This is a memorable film on the discovery of the actual reality in rural India by a film unit and its director when they try to recreate/make a film on famines. Why I like the film? Films about films tend to be boring apart from exception like Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT. This film by MS succeed in mirroring social realities and raising many relevant questions – in order to portray reality, weren’t the film unit responsible for making life harder for the poor villagers because of soaring prices and other forms of degradation when the urban film crew descend on the rural countryside?…

4. PATHER PANCHALI (Satyajit Ray, Bengali, 1955)

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The film that brought International acclaim to Indian cinema. It often figures in the critic’s list of ten best films in World Cinema.

(to be Continued …)

 

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Image result for sandip ray uttaran

UTTARON (Broken Journey) is a film based on a story and screenplay by Satyajit Ray, and directed by his son Sandip Ray. The film follows a Calcutta based doctor (Soumitro Chattopadhyay) who is successful treating the well-heeled of society. His teenage daughter is shown leading a reckless life giving rise to suspicion of being a drug addict.

The doc embarks on a journey to Jamshedpur to deliver a talk on ADVANCES OF MEDICAL SCIENCES IN LAST TWO DECADES in a Conference. En route his car breaks down in a remote area & he sees a man lying unconsciously in the field. The doc tries to lend a helping hand. What follows is a discovery of reality about lack of health-care facilities (dependence on witch doctor) and abysmal condition (lack of electricity) in the village. This leads to an awakening in the doctor & the realization of the futility & elitism of conferences when basic health care facilities elude the majority of the population.

The supporting cast includes Subalakshmi Munshi, Sadhu Meher, Subhendu Chatterjee, Lily Chakraborty and others.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

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Ek Din Pratidin” (And Quiet Rolls the Day) remains an artistic triumph in the career of Mrinal Sen.

The gist: The narrative underlined what happens when a working girl doesn’t return home after work on a particular day. MS is one of the first to assess the changing position of women with industrialization and urbanization. Mamata Shankar, Gita Sen, Sreela Mazumdar & Satya Bandophyay comprised the cast.

Ek Din Pratidin was based on a story by famed Bengali writer Amalendu Chakravorty. A family of seven members with father (Satya Bandopadhyay), moher (Gita Sen), three sisters and two brothers are mostly dependent on the earning of a single member of the family, i.e. the eldest working daughter (Mamata Shankar).

The film opens with a long shot sequence of a hand-pulled  rickshaw entering a claustrophobic neighborhood. Thereafter, it cuts to a young child getting hurt  while playing, and taken to the clinic for treatment. One of the early sequence also shows a man urinating on the walls of the house where the family lived and the house-owner castigating the person concerned for the act – scenes of everyday life in Calcutta. MS always gave us such images from Calcuttan life in film after film.

The story unfolds slowly when the working girl doesn’t return home that night. At first, the family members kept silent hoping that she might have been working overtime, and will arrive late. The middle sister (Sreela Mazumdar in a superb performance) goes out to make a phone call to see if her sister might still be at the office. She returns home without being able to contact her.

Now the family members gets panicky, and the father goes out and watches the buses go by, without his daughter alighting from any of them. When the last bus also passes by, he returns home. Soon the inmates of the multiple storied building where both the landowner and his several tenants resided got wind of the fact that the working girl has not returned home that night.

The reactions from the various neighbors are depicted beautifully. Some makes acerbic comments, while others are more sympathetic. There are good Samaritan too who came to help the family in their hour of crisis. Two such characters, Shyamalda who stays in the same premise, and the scooter-owner friend of the brother goes out in search of the missing person. They head to the Police Station to lodge a complaint. Biplab Chaterji as a policeman, in a small role, excels. Biplab raids the family’s residence for basic inquiry, and extracts some facts about Mamata’s personal life (the type of garments she was wearing on that day). Sreela provided Biplab and his assisting officers with the necessary details.

Meanwhile, the brother and his friend check out the morgue to ascertain whether his sister’s dead body was brought there. The family also receives a news that a lady matching the description of  the missing woman lay badly injured in an accident in Nilratan Medical Hospital. The father, along with the good neighbour Shyamalda, set off for the Hospital to find out…

It was found that the girl was not his daughter. They return home relieved.

However, it was a harrowing time for the family during the night. In the wee hours of the morning, the small girl of the family sights her eldest sister (Mamata Shankar) coming back. Surprisingly, everyone in the family eyed her with suspicion. No one asks her as to where she had been the previous night…

The landlord alights the staircase and asks the father to vacate the house as soon as possible. He harped upon the fact that the locality is meant only for decent people.

The last sequence shows Gita Sen in the morning hours(who was keeping bad health the previous night) begin her preparation for her everyday household chores…

The film was released in 1979, and won awards at several International Film Festivals. The camerawork by K K Mahajan is brilliant capturing effectively the moods and emotions of the actors & the tense atmosphere of the surroundings.

Analysis: The critics may find faults. They may argue that in a big city where neighbors live like virtual strangers, neighbors discussing the non-returning of the girl to the house at such length is not a realistic portrayal of modern times, where people are mostly unconcerned about the lives of others. Maybe such debatable  issues apart, the novelty of the theme has never been explored in Indian cinema. Sen’s penchant to keep the audiences guessing as to where the girl disappeared is very much in evidence because he doesn’t offer any solution. Film Critic John W Hood finds an excellent example of the liberated woman in “Ek Din Pratidin”. “The heroine is her own boss. There is no answer to the question why she did not return home at night. Sen says it is her business where she had been.”

In an Interview, when Mrinal Sen was asked about his personal relationship with Satyajit Ray, Sen said that they never discussed each other’s films in great detail. Ray made some acerbic comment regarding this film, saying that the filmmaker doesn’t know where the women character had disappeared the previous night. Mrinal countered this and said that definitely he could have offered a solution in the film (the telephone call in the neighborhood medical dispensary late at night that went unanswered was an indicator of the missing woman trying to contact his family members) as to where the girl had disappeared, but that was not where the focus of the film lay. What he was trying to expose was the hollowness of our responses whenever misfortune befalls  someone.

When the core theme remains the same, it is interesting to unravel how two great filmmakers approach it. The theme in question – exploitation of women and the filmmakers – Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara) & Mrinal Sen (Ek Din Pratidin). The film EK DIN PRATIDIN came roughly two decades after MEGHE DHAKA TARA. In the Ghatak work, we find novelty in sound design & lighting patterns, the use of classical music in the unfolding of the storyline. In terms of narrative style, it was quite straight-forward. The Mrinal Sen film is an experimentation to convey the message under the guise of a suspenseful incident. MS also incorporates several strands of calcuttan life deftly in his cinema. They become a living document of the lives of the citizens of his favorite city.

The interview: In the book ‘Out of God’s Oven: Travels in a fractured land’ by Dom Moreas and Sarayu Srivatsa (Penguin Viking, Pg 118) there is an interview of Mrinalda with the authors and a Japanese gentleman Watanabe. When asked to speak about his films, Mrinalda smiled ‘Of course, of course. About my films, let me see. Yes, recently I made a film about a middle class family. A woman, twenty five years old, she does not come home one night. She comes home the next morning. That is what the film is about.’

Watanabe looked amused. Mrinalda laughed. ‘When she doesn’t return her family members become worried. The neighbors ask question. They react. The film is about their reaction. Their reaction tells you about the middle-class-ness of Indian families. At the end of the film, the landlord asks the family to leave the flat; go elsewhere.’                                                                                                                                                         Why?                                                                                                                                                          ‘Because everyone in the building say terrible things about the girl. If an Indian girl stays out of the house for a night, it is a very bad thing.’

Watanabe nodded slowly. ‘ Ah soo. Ah su desu ne. Rike Sita in Lamayana. I see now. Sita come home to God Lam , but she spend so many night out so Lam not accepting her. Hai, so desu ne, Lam was worried that Lavana would have touched Sita. So-so, the doubt was there in Lam’s mind. I see, I see. So, yo- a story based rittre bit on, Lamayana? Hai.’

Mrinalda digressed and said, “The film is about women, the inequalities that exist even now and how people treat women.’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

gaggara

Frankly speaking, in spite of having spent half a century in India, I have never heard about a community speaking the language TULU. It was a pleasant surprise to catch a wonderful film made in this language recently, a language spoken in South India.

The film traces the life of a traditional performing artist of the community speaking Tulu. He is an elderly person, a boozer who is carrying the mantle of being a Kola dancer – an inheritance bequeathed on him by his forefathers who were Kola dancers for generation. His son, who often went without food because his father spent his little earnings (for about five months in a year) on drinking, resolved to break out of the family profession. Working hard at studies, he manages a reasonably good paying job as a teacher.

However, fate deals a cruel blow to his aspiration  as his father falls from a tree and fractures his leg. He is advised not to perform Kola dance ever again. The village elders and his father now implore the son to give up teaching and carry on the family tradition of being a Kola dancer. After initial resistance, the son  agrees to the proposal of his father…

Gagaras (bells) are ornaments tied to the legs of Bhoota Kola performers. Bhoota Kola are performed usually between October and May in this region. Directed by Shiv Dhwaj, the film won National Award in 2008 for best regional film. Its duration is one hour and 50 minutes.

This is a thought provoking film and offers insight into the lives of hardship of performing artists, the struggles of their progeny caught between keeping the family tradition alive and the demands of education in a modern society .  I found some echoes of Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s BAGH BAHADUR and the Konkani film DIGANT in this work.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

It is heartening to find that powerful films can come from small film industries like Assam in a dialect (Mising) spoken by a minority section of the population of the state. KO-YAD is such a haunting film, it kept me reminding of Jahnu Barua’s HKGOROLOI BOHU DOOR (It is a Long Way to the Sea).

ko-yad
Basically it is a tale of arduous struggle of a boatman Paukum who faced tremendous personal tragedies but bravely faced his circumstances and continued in the profession to eke out a livelihood for his family by catching firewood from the river. He subsisted on “Apong” – a kind of local brew of the people of the area.
Some of the dialogues linger: ” I have two rivers and a boat” (The boat was a gift to the protagonist from his father and was constructed of good timber)
“I had a belief that even if the entire world betrays me the river and the boat would never betray me.”
The film also touches upon issues of the under privileged and their difficulties faced trying to provide professional education like Medicine to their offspring. The filming qualities are remarkable – IMHO at par with the best of International cinema. The excellent cinematography echoed the films of Gautam Ghose and his brilliance in capturing the vagaries of nature. One early scene where the mother of the protagonist commits suicide in the river is beautifully and creatively shot.
The screenplay and direction is by Manju Borah.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

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Films depicting contemporary reality without compromising is a rare commodity. That is why Tapan Sinha’s ATANKA hits you very hard. I can’t recall any Bengali film depicting the loss of Bengali heritage and high culture and constantly cautioning us about it in such a forceful manner as ATANKA. “Bangalir hathe chaku, bangalir hathe khoon, era kara?” – this dialogue from the film laments the decline of the community where political killings have become rampant.

In this film, an upright teacher (Soumitro Chatterjee) is witness to a murder committed by one of his ex-students (Sumanta Mukhopadhyay). The local goons start terrorising the teacher…the film highlights the dubiousness of the political class and how they misuse the local youths and the police. Soumitro Chaterjee is brilliant as the oppressed teacher and his expression with fear written all over exemplifies the nuanced performance one has come to associate with the veteran actor – a favourite of all Bengali arthouse directors. The supporting cast includes Prasenjit, Manoj Mitra, Anil Chaterjee, Arijit Guha and others.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

 

 

561129-gkff-2015-naayi-neralu-film(1)In some respects, Girish Kasarvalli’s NAYI NIRALU (In the Shadow of the Dog) is similar to Satyajit Ray’s APUR SANSAR. The final sequence where the heroine Venku holds her little child that she must raise and provide for bears similarity to Apu holding his son aloft signifying that lives must go on inspite of personal tragedies that transpired in their lives. In APUR SANSAR Apu loses his wife, in NAYI NERALU the protagonist Venku lost her husband who had drowned around two decades back. Since then she had been living with her in-laws …

Kasarvalli’s film focuses on reincarnation, conventional beliefs and question several social traditions. The rural backdrop of the film is quite spectacular in parts and add to its charm. In this film, I noticed that a widowed lady wears red saree (specific to South Indian tradition?) whereas we’re used to seeing widows in ‘whites.’

The film narrates the tale of a young man Vishwa who proclaims that he was the reincarnated son of a respected person of a certain village in the neighborhood in his earlier birth. When Vishwa comes to the house of the Father of his declaration complexities arise and orthodox beliefs bug at every step. Watch this fine film by the renowned filmmaker of MANE.

Rating: 4 out of 5