“Wars are waged by kings; we are ordinary, simple folk.”
In 1943 India, a young Brahmin named Gangacharan (Soumitra Chatterjee) and his wife (Babita) settle in a village, where Gangacharan assumes the roles of teacher, healer, and priest. But when war affects the village in the form of famine, Gangacharan finds that his privileged status will not guarantee rice for his family.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Character Arc
- Class Relations
- Village Life
- World War II
Response to Peary’s Review:
As noted by Peary, this “lovely, underrated film by Satyajit Ray” possesses “breathtaking” cinematography by Soumendu Ray, and “many moments that will stay with you.” It tells the heartbreaking yet fascinating tale of a tragic moment in Indian history when, as summarized in the closing subtitles, “Over five million died of starvation and epidemics in Bengal in what has come to be known as the man-made famine of 1943.” Due to the British government cornering civilian food supplies in order to feed its armies, villagers were unable to secure even a subsistence-level amount of rice, and it was soon unavailable at any price.
Despite the enormity of the subject matter, Ray characteristically takes a deeply personal approach, focusing primarily on the character arc of the main protagonist (Gangacharan), who gradually learns that, when it comes to survival in times of war, caste matters not at all. Equally compelling, however, are the subplots about Gangacharan’s wife Ananga (Babita) and her friends, who do what they can to bring food to their households — for Ananga, this means lowering herself enough to help mill rice, while her married friend Chutki (Sandhya Roy) sleeps with a disfigured man (Noni Ganguly) in exchange for some of his precious supply. Ultimately, Ray shows both the worst and the best sides of humanity in his film, as each character discovers what he or she is willing to compromise for his own survival — and for the survival of others.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Soumitra Chatterjee as the proud Brahmin who undergoes a change of heart
- Babita as Gangacharan’s beautiful wife
- Beautiful cinematography of Indian countryside
Yes. Though not all critics agree, I believe this foreign gem is further evidence of Satyajit Ray’s incomparable gifts as a filmmaker, and should be seen by all film fanatics.
- Foreign Gem
- Important Director