Talking films: Renoir’s River and Malle’s Phantom India

September 23, 2006 at 12:15 pm 2 comments

My good friend Saikat sent a mail a couple of days ago from Cornell. we had always been very passionate movie buffs and share a lot of ideas to make a film someday!! now, one is an MIT scientist and another a disgruntled Techie, dont know if that wud ever happen. Nonetheless, our passion yet refused to die. here is the excerpt from the mail (i have translated it from bengali).

Saw a movie yesterday – Jean renoir‘s The River, which was shot at calcutta during late 40s and released in 1951. i am lucky to see some good movies on ‘India / Calcutta’ in last one year. The most striking one was of Louis Malle‘s seven movies on India (“Phantom India“, 1969) and one special movie on kolkata (Calcutta), all shot in the year 1968. This movie on calcutta – believe me, i have never seen such disturbing scenes for two long hours. entirely shot in lepor hospitals, slums etc. As i was watching the movie, i was asking myself “Is this disturbing to me because i am a bengali? still so much of regionalism?”. now i feel; an artist should ofcourse have a responsibility towards truth. but he should also and necessarily have a bigger responsibility towards beauty. Now this definition of beauty can certainly vary. but roughly it should match to a global sense of aesthetics. louis malle’s calcutta was disturbing globally. and at the cost of my city!

‘The River’ of Renoir, on the contrary is just beautiful. Pather panchali-r saathe kothau ekta prochondo mil achhe (there’s something strikingly similar to Ray‘s Pather Panchali). ‘The River’ was made 5 years before Pather Panchali, with Satyajit Ray working(and learning) as an assistant to Renoir, and Bansi Chandragupta being the art director of the movie(who later collaborated with Satyajit Ray in almost all of his creations). Starting from ‘alpona diye’ (showing a hand-made deisgn) casting to end with a long and fading shot over ganga. it’s sheer beauty, and respect too; Respect towards indians and their culture. the music, the long sitar jhalas is bound to remind us of Pather Panchali again. (most of the actors were not good. but still Renoir conveyed it! i dont know how.)

i remember seeing a bhutani movie, Travelers and Magicians. that was the only movie I saw in Cornell, where, after the movie, the entire crowd of more than 100, started clapping. initially i thought that the director is probably present. but no one from the movie was there in the hall. later i realized that it was just appreciation. a cooporative expression of gratitude towards a far bigger universal sense of beauty.

ar kaalke jokhon shobai (and when everybody yesterday), more than 150 people stood up and started clapping for a 55 years old, french movie, my eyes were filled with tears. i missed the name of the music director. shit. was it Ravi Shankar?

Added by Soubhik: The sitar was actually played by Subrata Mitra, Satyajit Ray’s regular cinematographer. he was also the production asst, and like Ray, this was the first film production he was in.

Music director (and technical advisor) was someone called M A Partha Sarathy. This is the only film whose credits he appears on IMDB. however, he seems to have become a businessman and later chairman of WWF-India.

here’s an interesting essay about the film’s significance and background.

it was also Renoir’s first color production, and he decided to severely restrict the color palette (presumably to avoid potential problems with accuracy of reproduction with the film). this is one reason the film supposedly has a ‘painted’ look.


Entry filed under: india, Movies. Tags: .

Calcutta rare photos – A collection from British era What a Prank!!!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. chrystie sherman  |  January 20, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Could you tell me if it possible to by the seven part series of Phantom India. I’ve been looking around, but cant find it. I know Criterion sells the L. Malle documentary, but I am sure P.I is in abbreviated form.


  • 2. chrystie sherman  |  August 14, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Could you tell me if it possible to by the seven part series of Phantom India. I’ve been looking around, but cant find it. I know Criterion sells the L. Malle documentary, but I am sure P.I is in abbreviated form.


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