Thursday, November 18, 2010
Bestial cruelty and exploitation is inherent in social stratification and in India it has been deeply ingrained in the name of caste. So despised were the so called lower castes that the the distinction between man and beast was obliterated. Munshi Premchand is the Balzac of his milieu and his novels and short stories are an eternal chronicle of the ageless misery of the poor. Satyajit Ray here gives us a film of brutal social realism based on a short story of the great writer. This is not the usual Ray, whose sensibilities are closer to the shimmering gentle lyricism of Tagore than to the more earthy and anguished style of Munshi Premchand.
Dukhia (Om Puri) is a low caste laborer and he leaves for the village priest's house to request his presence at the betrothal ceremony of his daughter. He has been sick but the priest has to be met today for astrological reasons. The priest treats him with the scorn due to a low caste and sets him to back breaking labor in return for his expected services. Dukhia is on an empty stomach and the chores succeed one another. Finally a log of stone hard wood he is asked to chop proves too much and he falls down---dead. There is some hue and cry in the village, even a few impotent and smothered voices of indignation against priestly hypocrisy and no one is willing to remove the dead body. Finally the priest decides to do it himself and drags the body by means of a rope to a place littered with the remains of dead cattle.
Om Puri as Dukhia gives a powerful portrayal, at one point breaking into helpless sobs. The late dusky and alluring Smita Patil as his wife powerfully complements him.
The film lacks the gentle subtleties for which the director is known. This is a film of raw power which vividly portrays one aspect of the realities of Indian society. It can hardly be accused of melodrama.
The movie is available in very clear download on Youtube: