In the second of this series celebrating a century of Indian cinema, Adoor Gopalakrishnan talks about some of his favourite films
Directed by Satyajit Ray; Bengali; B/W
My first choice is Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second in his film trilogy based on a Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay novel. My selection is purely subjective and emotional — historically, it should have fallen on Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road). The beautiful relationship built between the mother and the son in Aparajito has no parallel in Indian cinema, perhaps none in world cinema. Every time I watch this film, I can’t help being overcome by emotion. My eyes fill and my voice chokes. Maybe I see my mother in Sarbajaya.
Once I asked Ray which one of his films was his favourite. Quick came his answer, “Charulata”. I am aware that Charulata has been a favourite of important critics like Chidananda Dasgupta as well. That does not stop me from keeping Aparajito close to my heart. And I had also told Ray so.
MEGHE DHAKA TARA (1960)
Directed by Ritwik Ghatak; Bengali; B/W
Set with the background of the partition of Bengal, Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-capped Star) tells the story of a displaced family struggling to survive in a not-so-congenial situation. The eldest daughter manages to find a job and, without even realising it in the beginning, turns out to be the sole breadwinner of the family — a sick father, helpless mother, ambitious brother and a youthful sister depend on her. In the process, she gets no chance to live her own life. Finally, the strain takes its toll and she falls prey to tuberculosis. It dawns on her late that life has mercilessly slipped out of her grip and she cries out desperately to her brother, who understands and sympathises with her, “I want to live!”
A heart-rending film. Ghatak’s original concept of visuals and sound effects make the film a unique experience. It uses melodrama to great creative effect.
EK DIN PRATIDIN (1979)
Directed by Mrinal Sen; Bengali; B/W
Ek Din Pratidin (And the Day Rolls On) is a modern-day narrative of a working woman in Calcutta. The fallacy of our idea of freedom for the working woman is questioned in this very significant film. It reveals very shockingly our age-old attitudes towards women even in the midst of so-called progress, sophistication and modernity. A young working woman belonging to a lower middle-class family fails to come home in the evening and this creates great commotion in the family and the neighbourhood. The film turns out to be an incisive study of our social psyche and what is rotten in it.
It is a quiet and sensitive work marked by a masterly depiction of real-life characters pitted against everyday situations.
Directed by Shyam Benegal; Hindi; B/W
Manthan relates the story of a young urban volunteers' group headed by a doctor. The volunteers arrive in a poor village to help start a milk cooperative. They come up against two kinds of vested interests. One is a private contractor who has been exploiting the village for years. The second is the village headman, who sees in the cooperative a means to strengthen his own power. Understanding the situation, the doctor picks a natural leader from among the villagers. This leader also happens to be a Harijan, representing the majority caste in the village. A rebel at first, gradually he comes to see the value of the cooperative.
The theme of Manthan is the churning of the social structure when the milk cooperative movement erodes the power of traditional bosses in a village. A remarkable screenplay by Vijay Tendulkar and Shyam Benegal, and excellent performances, among other qualities, from artistes like Smita Patil make the film memorable.
Directed by Goutam Ghose; Hindi
I will add half of a film to this list. It is Paar (Crossing, a Hindi film released in 1984) by Goutam Ghose. I was greatly impressed by the film's second half, the part in which the famished lead character, played by Naseeruddin Shah, is crossing the wide river. The performance as well as the taking of the sequence is marvellous. When you think the terribly exhausted character’s ordeal is over at last with a landmass in sight, it turns out to be just a small islet in the vast river.
KANASEMBA KUDUREYANERI (2010)
Directed by Girish Kasaravalli; Kannada
Kanasemba Kudureyaneri (Riding the Stallion of Dream) is the story of a gravedigger who can foresee death in his village. Whenever he sees Siddha, his guru, in a dream, it is a sure sign that someone in the village is going to die. One time, however, the prophecy does not prove true. The gravedigger cannot take it. He insists that his dream cannot go wrong, but the estate manager in the landlord’s house denies it vehemently. As the intricacies of the plot unravel, it becomes clear that the prophecy was right but it had to be hidden from everyone in the family as well as the village.
This film gives one the clear feeling of witnessing a master at work. Girish is already a major filmmaker with his remarkable oeuvre. The natural development of events in the film infuses it with subtle drama and humour, making its viewing highly enjoyable.
I would be failing in my duty if I did not record here what I thought of Kasaravalli's previous work Naayi Neralu (In the Shadow of the Dog, a Kannada film released in 2006). The first half of the film, which deals with the relationship between a young widow and a young man who is believed to be her husband reborn, is simply outstanding in its treatment.