Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Case is Closed (Kharij)

Mrinal Sen, 1982, 95m, Bengali

A pre-teen ager servant boy dies of carbon monoxide poisoning on a cold winter night. He was employed by a young working Calcutta couple (Anjan and Mamata) with a small boy of their own. Taking money from a neighbor's friendly daughter, he slipped away to watch a movie on a cold winter night. Finding his usual sleeping corner below the stairs too cold, he bolts himself inside the kitchen, where a fire was burning. The next morning we witness a powerful discovery scene like on the morning after Macbeth's murder. The door is forced open and we see the commotion in the apartment block which is the stage of the drama.

Who is responsible? The landlord who failed to provide ventilation in the kitchen ("it's not a bedroom"), the couple for employing child labor (which is illegal) and failing to provide reasonably comfortable sleeping arrangements? The police takes over and a post mortem is performed. Meanwhile a procession of the boy's relatives arrives and the father is inconsolable but lifts no accusing finger, his head bowed in acceptance of the nature of things. The film ends on a heart rending note of under-stated inconsolable sorrow.

Comparison with the titanic Ray is inevitable. Sen is also gentle but has a more steely and masculine quality. Ray has a child's sense of wonder, but Sen's tragic vision is touched with youthful anger. He has been called Marxist in outlook but the present film does not point an accusing finger at anyone, but does dramatically bring out a class divide almost as of two different species. The deceased boy's father Hari seats himself deferentially on the ground. He has no capacity for anger. He wails like a lost calf, while remaining meek and respectful to the end.

This is a flawless, fully engrossing film and like a gust of fresh air after a heavy and prolonged overdose of the bucolic cinema of Satyajit Ray. Sen is no poor cousin.

The entire film is can be viewed on Youtube in excellent quality. Click HERE for the first of ten parts.

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