When I posted on Twitter about the person who’d advised me to not ‘waste my time’ watching ‘silly Indian films’, a Twitter follower pointed out that Satyajit Ray was also Indian. And I had to concur: Ray, in fact, was the first person who came to my mind as a refutation of that ‘silly Indian films’ generalization. His films are works of art. Occasionally ‘silly’ (Goopy Gyne Baagha Byne fits there), but that silliness is on genius level. It takes brains and creativity to be silly in the way Ray was with that film.
But Devi, ‘The Goddess‘, is nothing like that. There is no silliness here, unless you interpret toxic superstition as silliness.
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.
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.