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Thursday, 10 May 2012

A girl to woman transition (Samapti)

There's something about Satyajit Ray's Samapti that is bound to touch the chords of a woman's heart. The last movie in the Teen Konya series (Postmaster, the first, is a superlative endeavour to project a young girl's isolation; Monihara however, is the weak link) is a brilliant romance carrying with it the whiff of rural Bengal. But even amidst all the intricacies of the human relationships heavy on the love quotient, there lies a subtle take on how a young tomboy grows and matures into a complete woman who recognises the significance of love in her life. Call it a story of evolution of Minu's personal character or how the young couple dismiss their ego and initial misunderstandings to unite, Ray's 1961 film, based on a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, is a masterpiece that will draw all and sundry. If you haven't watched it yet, you really cannot fathom what you are missing...

Amulya (Soumitra Chatterjee) is the affluent and attractive young man studying in Calcutta. After his college examinations are over, he returns to his ancestral village to visit his mother Jogmaya Devi (Sita Mukherjee). She is delighted to see him and obviously dotes on him as does every mother on seeing her son after a long, long time. Amulya expresses a desire to pursue a law degree and his mother is eager, too. However she wants him to return to Calcutta only after tying the knot with a girl she has fixed in the village. Nirupama is the quintessential goody-two-shoes prospective bride who can sing, sew and cook. Amulya is not very keen and insists that he will only agree after meeting her personally. While on his way to Nirupama's house, he has to negotiate muddy paths which stain his polished shoes. On reaching he is greeted by Nirupama's father (Santosh Dutta is fabulous as the ever-smiling and obligatory father who is all out to impress his would-be son-in-law) and is taken to the living room that already is hosting Nirupama's grandfather (frail with age) and her siblings (gawking and gaping at this fresh scapegoat!). Amulya might have come here, but in his mind he already carries the vision of a girl he has spotted ever since he laid foot in the village. Mrinmoyee (Aparna Sen) is the free-spirited tomboy that no mother can accept as a daughter-in-law. She runs around and climbs trees with the young boys, talks loudly, fights like a kid and is everything that a girl of her age should not be. But there is something about her that even Amulya cannot shirk away. Perhaps her freewheeling laughter, her deep-set eyes, her lack of inhibitions about anything and most importantly that she is not bound by conventions! What happens in Nirupama's house is something that I shouldn't spoil by narrating it here. It's ribtickling, lipsmacking and uproarious. Watch it...
Just when Amulya is about to leave Nirupama's home, he realises that one of his shoes is missing. He is given a pair of slippers to make do with. Awkwardly walking on the muddy path, Amulya hears a tinker from behind a tree. Who is watching him? He catches up on the person and lo! It's Mrinmoyee, or Paglee as the villagers have christened her. While snatching the shoe from her hand, he grips her arm and the two are face to face. The scene is fraught with sexual tension and chemistry, almost of the tangible kind. Mrinmoyee is struggling to be free, Amulya's grip is too strong. He cannot take his eyes away from the attractive face of the girl. She has no make-up, her get-up is ordinary, yet she has a magnetic charm that no dolled up young girl could possess. Mrinmoyee wriggles and sets herself free and scoots. But now, Amulya's mind is made...
He declares to his mother that he will marry but not Nirupama. He wants Mrinmoyee and no other. His mother is distraught and howls. After a weeping session she sees Mrinmoyee playing with some boys in the garden and calls her to talk to her for a while. A stern approach is used to test whether she would be a fit bride for her darling son Amulya. Mrinmoyee is noncommittal with her answers, she's rather go and play...
Mrinmoyee stays with her mother; her father works in Kushiganj and loves his daughter very much. The mother Nistarini (Geeta Dey) is ecstatic that such a glorious alliance has come for her daughter. Mrinmoyee is asked to stay indoors and not gallivant with the village boys. She is unhappy. Marriage means bondage to her. Why is God punishing her this way? How can she undo the damage and teach all her enemies a lesson?
On the marriage night, Amulya is a bit sad that Mrinmoyee is not happy with the state of affairs but he knows that soon things will be fine. He tries reasoning with his bride but she declares that she never wanted to get married. Pregnant pauses in their conversation do not give birth to proximity. They in turn spoil Amulya's mood and make him think that he has pained Minu. Minu feigns sleep but slips away at the first opportune moment. Matters turn a tad sensitive when she is discovered near the river swinging and singing alone. Amulya declares to her that he will be off to the city and will only return when she writes to him to come back...
This incident initiates the change in Mrinmoyee, a young girl till now. I love the scene where she holds on to the pillow and weeps, with her mother hugging her. She does not say anything but we girls know what pain she is suffering from. She wants her husband to come back, she is struggling to get rid of the girl avatar and step into the realm of womanhood but she doesn't know how to do that. A bit of confusion, a bit of ego is playing spoilsport.
Then there is the scene where she lies there smiling to herself. Perhaps, she is thinking about Amulya, of what can be... Perhaps, she is rejoicing in the fact that he singled her out of all the young women in the village. Note that she is not overtly unhappy when informed of her pet squirrel's death. Now, she has graver issues to deal with. She has to take care of her home and her husband.
Then there is the scene where she hears that her husband is back. She is ecstatic. But the very next moment, when she gauges that he is back because of his mother's illness, her ego and sentiments take a beating. Does that mean that Amulya loves his mother more than her? Power games, I tell you! She runs off to the woods and cries her heart out. But this is no evil girl. The moment Amulya cries out for her, it is enough to melt Mrinmoyee's heart. Yes, she is ascertained now that Amulya loves her, cares for her.
Soumitra Chatterjee is of course the only man we could have had as Amulya. he is very good-looking, tall, statuesque, with an intellectual yet naughty air about him. His sentiments are hurt when Mrinmoyee fails to acknowledge his love in the beginning and he subtly makes it known. A brilliant display of restraint by this top actor here.
Aparna Sen definitely should praise her luck for this debut. A stellar role directed by India's most well-known director, Ray. Who wouldn't faint with satisfaction. Even though sometimes you might feel that her speech is a bit stunted, Sen makes up for it with her tender expressions and free body language. A remarkable debut.
Ray's realism is as usual at its best in Samapti. Village life, its sights, sounds and smells are all captured minutely by Ray with exceeding truth. Like when it rains, the paths go muddy and people have difficulty in walking. How people talk, how they live, everything is so superlatively depicted. It's a joy to unravel all these layers here.
The last scene takes us back to the first confrontational scene between the erudite Amulya and the tomboy Mrinmoyee. Amulya is the same; smart, sober and handsome. It's Mrinmoyee who has had a sea change in personality. She is more womanly, her body language exudes the shy charm of a petite bride and she smiles with her eyes lowered now, doesn't fall all over with laughter. When Amulya holds her this time, she doesn't struggle. She looks down with a shy demeanour knowing full well that Amulya is about to embark on a love-laden journey of consummation. This scene is sexual also, but it's more soft and sensual. And appealing. All misunderstandings are laid to rest. This is the beginning of the joyous union of Amulya and Mrinmoyee...


  1. Oh, so this was the original film from which Uphaar was remade! I loved that film, and it is *one* film in which Jaya's giggly persona didn't make me want to get up and strangle her! I *should* watch Samapti soon!

  2. I'd been trying a couple of months back to find a subtitled copy of Teen Kanya. No luck so far. Maybe I should check Induna... this sounds so good.

  3. @Anu: I haven't seen Uphaar. BUt nothing can come close to the masterpiece that is Samapti. It's called the Ray touch. See for yourself to believe it :)

  4. @Dustedoff: Good doesn't even begin to explain it Madhu. I can watch this 24x7, trust me :)

  5. Uphaar is closer to Tagore's original short story. But Ray's version flows so much better that I'm sure Tagore would approve of the way his story was transformed for the screen.

  6. Hello Sharmi,
    It's been a while since I was here last, and I've been reading through some of your reviews. This one by Ray is such a wonderful one that I want to see it ASAP! The beginning reminded me of Mani Ratnam's Roja: have you seen it?
    And do you know if it's possible to watch Two daughters on the web somewhere?
    Thanks for a wonderfully written review (I gloated over your "goody-two-shoes prospective bride"!!)

  7. @Yves: Hello there. Haha, you have to see this one to understand what I mean by this 'goody-two-shoes prospective bride! It's toooo funny. Don't know whether Teen Kanya is available online. Thankfully I have the DVD.
    I've seen Roja, but trust me everything pales in comparison to this. And don't even talk about Uphaar. It's a plain plain bad copy of this one :(

  8. Hey Sharmi,

    Just happened to hit this blog. Brilliant depiction of the movie, one of my favourites also! I would say this movie had all the moments - some funny, some gloomy, some subtle and some confrontational as well along with the perfect village backdrop. Need to see it again soon...

  9. @Som: Hello and welcome. I totally agree with you :)

  10. Film watching is definitely a personal experience and no two people agree completely about a film. But to call Monihara the weakest link in Teen Kanya is disappointing, to say the least. Who can forget Kanika Majumdar's haunting eyes and fantastic portrayal of an jewelery obsessed wife, Kali Banerjee as the heart-broken and betrayed husband. The scene when Monimalika reveals her jewels covered body is incredibly horrifying. All three stories make Teen Kanya the classic film it is and there are really no weak links here.

  11. @Anonymous: Well, to each his own...