There is a scene well into Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room) in which the protagonist, a reclusive and close-to-bankrupt zamindar named Bishwambar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) stands outside his crumbling palace and looks out towards the riverbank, where his elephant Moti—his only asset worth anything—is standing. Bishwambar Roy’s stance, the squared shoulders, the raised chin, shows his pride: his pride in the elephant, his pride in the many generations of wealthy aristocracy that he can lay claim to, his pride—as he tells someone in another scene—in his blood.
Even as he looks out at his elephant, a truck, with the name of Ganguli (Roy’s wealthy, ‘self-made man’ neighbour) on it comes along. It’s heading towards the riverbank too, and as it proceeds, it raises clouds of dust, obscuring the river, the land, and the elephant. Blocking out Bishwambar Roy’s view of that last vestige of his wealth, and prompting him to take what turns out to be a decision that will prove a turning point in the story.
Satyajit Ray is a name that appears inevitably on any list of great Indian film directors. And often enough (or at least, it should, as far as I’m concerned) on lists of great film directors, regardless of nation or language. For me, half the joy of watching a Satyajit Ray film is not in in the breathtaking beauty of camera angles or the performances he managed to coax out of actors; it’s in the stories he told through his films. Stories very varied, stories that range all the way from whodunits to romances, to tales of human frailty, injustice, and more. You can never say of Satyajit Ray’s films that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Every now and then, when I’ve reviewed a Hindi film (Mamta, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Kabuliwaalah, Khamoshi) or even mentioned one (Devdas, Chori Chori), someone or the other has popped up and either informed me (or reminded me) that this film was originally made in Bengali.
It was a little different with Sagarika. This film nobody told me about. I happened to be trawling IMDB checking out the synopses of all of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar’s films, and realized—even as I read the plot of Sagarika—that this was exactly the same story as one of my favourite Hindi films, Bimal Roy’s lovely Prem Patra. Could I resist the temptation to watch it? No.
Serendipity: noun. plural: serendipities. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident; the occurrence of such a discovery. Coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, based on a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendib (‘Serendib’ being present-day Sri Lanka)—the three princes in question often making such lucky discoveries.
And what does this have to do with Chaowa-Pawa (‘To Want and To Have’)? Simply that, while I had set about watching this film because I really, really like the lead pair—Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen—I realized, within the first half hour of the film, that it was a remake of one of my favourite old Hindi films, Chori-Chori (which, as many of you would know, was a remake of It Happened One Night). Serendipity? Absolutely.
This Satyajit Ray film had been lying in my to-watch pile for a long time. Then, I learnt a few days back that the Indian government had finally decided to award a Dadasaheb Phalke to Soumitra Chatterjee for his contribution to Indian cinema. Better late than never, I guess (even though a number of people have said that it’s too late). The announcement, however, did give me a solid reason to watch Charulata (aka The Lonely Wife). And I ended up wanting to hit myself for not having seen this masterpiece earlier.
Or Ogni Porikkha, if you want to be phonetically correct.
Over the last twenty-odd years, I’ve heard countless Bengalis rave about Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen as the ultimate onscreen romantic couple. I’ve seen both of them act (separately) in a few (admittedly Hindi) films, and have been very impressed.
So, finally: an Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen film, and one that was a big hit too. Agni Pariksha: ‘trial by fire’.
There are some films that offer deep, mind-searing insights into human life. There are some that allow one to escape for a couple of hours into a world of make believe where good and beautiful people always win and the bad always come to a sorry end.
And there are films like this one, which I seriously think should be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne) isn’t among Satyajit Ray’s most profound works—it’s not in the same league, perhaps, as the Apur trilogy or Nayak. It is, however, one of the most charming films ever made in India, and a sure cure for the blues. I adore this film. Every delightful little bit of it.