Sunday, December 20, 2009
Cloud Capped Star 1960--"abandon hope, ye..."
Ghatak belongs to the threesome of Bengali directors who stand outside the commercial mainstream, Mrinal Sen and Ray being the other two. Ghatak, who never achieved anything near Ray's standing, was praised and encouraged by Ray. Everybody doesn't need to be Ray, and putting aside the artificial yardsticks of Ray and Bollywood (like two poles), one may try to see this most famous of his seven features, which in one opinion poll of film personalities and professionals, throw up Meghe Dhaka Tara as the most celebrated of Indian films, above Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and others. Cannot swallow this anyhow.
Nita, the heroine, along with a sister and two brothers, teacher father, and vampish mother, are a family of refugees from East Pakistan (that is, East Bengal and now Bangla Desh). They occupy a small cottage in a refugee camp, and eke out a meagre existence. The film describes the shabbiness of a lower middle class life, people educated enough to dream but circumscribed and ultimately extinguished by economic factors. The film relates the exploitation of Nita, a nice looking girl in her twenties, who is too good for her own or anybody's good, who silently suffers various indignities, foregoing career, marriage and finally health, for her family's sake. The meaness of her mother or sister is a caricature difficult to swallow, and the Wordsworth reciting school-master is not a patch on some of the teachers of the same period in Aparajito. The realism which is attributed to him does not seem much in evidence, though he is quite distant from the formulaic inanities of Bollywood cinema.
It is a joyless, lifeless, stifling universe, where small people live out small lives, and no spark of revolt leaps up as the night engulfs this odyssey of spineless endurance. What reality is Ghatak projecting? It is indeed the death of a salesman. These are not qualities we admire in ourselves or others. Cinema, even when depicting the morbid or unwholesome aspects of life, should be ennobling, uplifting or enlightening. This is a film almost as dull and sickly as the life it describes. Not a shaft of hope penetrates this gloom. Hell itself is perhaps defined by it's apparent eternity. One owes being alive above being good. Even good Bollywood is rarely missing the sparkle of life.
So much for opinion polls.