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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The hills are alive (Kanchanjangha)

What a brilliantly multi-layered film Kanchanjangha is. Every frame is steeped in imagery, every dialogue resonating with the inner doubts clouding the characters' minds. Just like the mist that is blocking out the sparkling view of the majestic Himalayan range. But, by the time the movie ends, every doubt is put to rest, every question answered, every nagging dillemma is solved. And with that the mist clears out of Darjeeling to gift us with the breathtaking view of the Kanchanjangha. Albeit through Satyajit Ray's eyes.

The mist is perfectly indicative of the doubts that cloud Monisha's mind as she treads on a tight rope between her father's wishes and her own desires. At another level it reflects the helpless state of Labanya (Karuna Banerjee) as she is a silent party to her husband's forcing their daughter's marriage with Mr Banerjee. The significance of the weather hardly ends there. It represents the misunderstandings and suspicion brewing between Anima (Anubha Gupta) and her husband regarding her illicit affair. In its misty avatar it sheds light on Ashok's (Arun Banerjee) mindset as he struggles for a decent job.
But, in my reckoning, the weather is directly symptomatic of the pretentious demeanour of Raibahadur Indranath Chowdhury (Chhabi Biswas). Gloating in self pride and importance, he is purposely unaware of the fact that there are matters more severe than his own thoughts, wishes and declarations. He chooses to negate everyone else's desires just because he believes that he knows best of everything. A dominating patriarch, this man is conceited enough to fix the match of his daughter to a man of his choice without even considering that the young girl might desire otherwise. When questioned by his wife, he brusquely claims that he knows what is best for everyone and no one dare refute that claim.
Ensconced in his own bubble of importance, Indranath Chowdhury is referred to as 'Lordship' throughout the entire film, not out of respect or honour. This title is showered on him only to prove the extent of his rigid rule. He is prone to finalising every decision in the house and God help those who dare to go against him.
No wonder Monisha (Alakananda Ray) is at a loss when she has to force herself to like Mr Banerjee (N Viswanathan), an alliance her father is keen on finalising. She wavers with her answers, is not sure of her heart, but she dare not anger her father. After all, her sister, Anima, married the man of her father' choice? So, it is but obvious that she should do the same. But, here is this poor girl, innocently introvert, who is hardly attracted to Mr Banerjee. We feel her discomfiture in her behaviour, in her procrastination towards agreeing to Mr Banerjee's proposal. Ray captures the young girl's predicament in the scene where she runs away to hide behind a tree bark, the loud cacophonous music reflecting the storm in her mind. Her tears bear testimony to her troubled heart. But, her father's order looms large over her mind. What would she do now?
While Monisha gets her decisions sorted and finds a new friend in Ashok, the young man who catches the young girl's fancy, Anima and her husband need to deliberate on something really serious. Anima has been carrying on an affair with a past lover and her husband has got an inkling of it. A blame game starts and altercations ensue. Anima's husband is ready to separate. But Anima is petrified of the scandal that would arise out of the divorce. Or is she? I'd love to believe that she is more scared of her father's reaction. A father who was so sure that Anima would live happily ever after with this man. But, thankfully Anima and her husband resort to a middle path that saves the situation. A responsibility towards their daughter eggs them to reconsider their decision. Now, their problem is sorted.
Worries have been gnawing at Labanya's mind. She is not ready to sacrifice Monisha's happiness. But how would this meek wife stand her ground against her martinet husband? Labanya musters up the courage and tells her brother Jagadish (Pahari Sanyal) to stop Monisha from taking any hasty decision. She now wants her daughter to listen to her heart. For that she is ready to pick a fight with her husband.
The most entertaining part of the crushing of Indranath's pride happens when Ashok declines his job offer. Realising that this man does not pride himself on being an Indian and is happy to credit the British for bringing glory to India, Ashok, the struggling commoner, brandishes his self esteem and shuns a Rs 300 job offer from the rich man. Though he grudges his decision slightly later on, it his honest approach towards making a mark with his own effort that floors not just Monisha but also us. His laughter is but a declaration of his victory over Indranath Chowdhury's falsity and pretense.
This 1962 film is the first coloured film attempted by Ray. With an original screenplay, he sure made Darjeeling look lovely. Well, Darjeeling is lovely. But from Ray's vision, Darjeeling talks. The hills reverberate with the sound of the birds, the song of the Lepcha boy and the click of the boots worn by the men in the film. And of course the chattering of Anil (Anil Chatterjee), the frivolous son of the domineering Raibahadur. When Kanchanjangha begins, it does so with the frothiness of a light film depicting the whereabouts of a big picnicking family. As the film rolls towards denouement, Ray shows that it is hardly so. There are graver issues to be dealt with.
And as Indranath Chowdhury beckons everyone, you can feel his lonely state. His worried brow reveals his shattered pride. He has no one beside him. All have sorted out their problems and moved on. The mist has cleared from their lives. Just like the mist that has moved away from the face of the mountain range. Now, the sun's rays shine bright on Kanchanjangha's glistening folds of snow...


  1. Loved the write-up. And loved Pahari Sanyal as the avid bird watcher in this film, esp. the scenes where he explains about birds to Ashok. And Ashok's father (or is it uncle, I forget) who sucks up to Chhabi Biswas was hilarious.

    I have this DVD by Angel but was so disappointed with the quality, and also it kept getting stuck, and skipping ahead-- so I missed scenes here and there, which was kind of frustrating. Just curious: did you encounter a similar problem?

  2. @Nivedita: It was Ashok's uncle. And no, my CD was very good. It even had English subtitles, which of course was redundant in my case.
    I love this film. Such an awesome work by Ray :)

  3. This one sounds lovely! But then, Ray's films always are. I have several of them in my to-watch pile at the moment, but keep putting them off because they are not exactly meant to give you a relaxed evening after a long day at work! His characters are so beautifully drawn, and everything is suggested so subtly and unobtrusively that it takes all your attention to keep up with their lives. And there is always something slightly disturbing about taking such a deep look into someone's life, even if it is only an few onscreen characters.

  4. I have heard about Kanchanjunga (Ray, after all!), but never seen it. It sounds like something I'd like to see... interestingly, your descriptions of Darjeeling reminded me of a Feluda story I'd read (I've forgotten which one, but I remember it had a monk in it) set in Darjeeling. More Ray magic, there.

  5. @Bollyviewer: This one is seriously not that serious!!. While you regale at the beauty of the landscape, there goes Ray bang to tell you an engaging tale about these interesting characters. Watch this. U will surely be bowled over :)

  6. @Dustedoff: This film is something you mustest see. I dont know whether i've read that Feluda story.
    Watch Kanchanjangha. It's worth it :)

  7. Hi Sharmi,
    Thanks for this great review. I'll definitely have to watch that. Another Ray! So you'd say the film's title reflects the solitude of the domineering father, aloof but left alone? Mmm... very nice. I'll try and see it and tell you what I thought.

  8. @Yves: Oh, this is another side that you have propelled me to see. Kanchanjangha representing the mighty but alone Indranath Chowdhury! Interesting take. Now you must see the film and write about it. I'd love to read your review of this masterpiece. :)

  9. Another onion, hundred layers. A tough film, this merits at least two or three views. I remember giving up midway a decade ago. But a subsequent view fascinated me, as has your post. Lovely analysis of the complex emotional interplay in a family that can be compared to the entire mountain range visible from Darjeeling.
    I love this portion of the post: "Well, Darjeeling is lovely. But from Ray's vision, Darjeeling talks. The hills reverberate with the sound of the birds, the song of the Lepcha boy and the click of the boots worn by the men in the film."
    Way to go, Ma'am :)

  10. @Netdhaba: Thank you so very much. Your praise is worth waiting for ;)

  11. I thought Arun Banerjee was a little bit fabulous in this movie. There's the inner turmoil, there's a bit of kyablamo, and a fair bit of character. Shades.

  12. @Spamsport: very rightly said :)

  13. Hi Sharmi,
    Just to let you know that your efforts have finally been crowned by success (it didn't take much persuading to have me review such a movie though!)

  14. @Yves: Great!!! Read your review. It was fab. Tried posting a review but just could not!!! But it was beautifully done :)

  15. Thanks for the enthusiasm! I don't know what the trouble is with that French interface though; you're not the first one recently to have complained... I could send them a message, but I've done it before and the answer was about as puzzling as the problem!

  16. @Yves: That's terrible. YOu are really missing out on the comments that we all could have posted on your blog!! :(