Despite its screenplay by Mrinal Sen based on a novel by Pramathanath Bishi and starring many major names, I have found extremely little information about this film, including confirmation of involvement by that Mrinal Sen. It’s a pretty film but also a sad one, which I have come to expect from anyfilm that romantically pairs Soumitra Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee. That feeling is also introduced right away with the titles scrolling over beautiful, desolate palaces, leading eventually an old man who stumbles through his abandoned-looking home.
Is he a ghost or an actual human? Hard to say, and the film implies it doesn’t really matter, so ruined is his life. I’m also not certain who he is, but after seeing the whole film I think he is an aged Soumitra (I’m going to use actor names for clarity), who seems to be the most tragic male character in the film. Things start out nicely—you don’t need subtitles to know that the scene below is shorthand for luuuurve—
but not long after Soumitra walks through the woods and sees this.
To be honest, the insertion of this little drawing threw me for a loop: there’s nothing animated in the rest of the film, and I didn’t pick up any cues that this was a hallucination or nightmare, so I have to assume the film is sparing us a realistic depiction of bodies hanging from trees. I really regret not understanding this scene better because I think it’s the moment that alters the rest of the action. Right after this, Soumitra hears screams (and again I wondered “Ghost or real?”) and tracks them down to Sabitri Chatterjee, who is being pursued by Tarun Kumar around a tent full of drunken men.
I don’t know if she has been abducted from a respectable home or if she’s a prostitute or what; she has a father who at first seems glad to see her again, but her facial expression indicates that she is not welcome back at home. Despite being in love with Madhabi, he marries Sabitri, I assume out of a sense of right and justice stirred up by the unfortunate victims he just saw; a wounded Madhabi very unhappily marries the despicable Tarun, who will eventually cheat on her with her friend Ruma Guha Thakurta.
Where I get truly lost is an armed conflict between…frankly I’m not sure who’s fighting or why, but this is the danger foreshadowed by the strange drawing seen earlier. The footage of torch-wielding fighters is very lovely, looking as much like fireflies, stars, or oil lamps on a pond as like the peril they really are.Madhabi and Soumitra are both involved in the conflict. I have seldom seen women in films take up arms, and her choice of joining the fight, of taking control, is a moving contrast to her married life in which she seems to be the distressed object of other people’s actions. In the screen shot immediately below, she has just wrangled a bunch of men into some action or other by a combination of what sounds like inspiration and shame (she says “Chee chee chee!” a few times), and I love the image of her with her hands on her hips, accomplished and proud.Based on what I think I understand, this is a story of sacrifice for what is right, written across several levels. That would probably also describe half of the older Hindi films I watch, but somehow it seems more direct here, firmly outlined by clear decision-makers and -sufferers and amplified by the drama of war.Maybe I’ve reached critical mass for familiarity with certain Bengali film visuals or maybe some of the movies set in the nineteenth century are just repetitive, but this film ticked many boxes that helped me understand the story despite not having subtitles. For example, a Durga Puja scene often seems to cement several ideas: we’re in West Bengal, someone is pious, and there is community that chooses to come together, sometimes with a zamindar or other leader very clearly as one of the centers of their assembly and attention.I think it works all those ways in this film. I do not fully understand what the older generation of the central wealthy family (Soumitra’s grandfather, I think?), who I assume is at least partly responsible for the Puja celebrations, is up to exactly or why local people in his sphere of influence take up arms. The astoundingly powerful Devi also opens with a similar scene; in that film the sequence establishes the older generation as very pious, even obsessively so, but in this film it’s not clear to me whether the early depiction of the goddess and associated violent imagery foreshadows conservative thinking or armed conflict.
You can watch Jora Dighir Chowdhury Paribar at the Angel youtube channel.
(Cross-post from Beth Loves Bollywood)