The Goddess (Devi)(1960) Director: Satyajit Ray;
Devi (The Goddess) is a film set in India over a century ago that explores tradition, religious beliefs, and assuming the role of a god. A young woman named Dayamoyee leads a simple life as the wife of Umaprasad who is finishing his studies to be a position to become even wealthier. She cares for her father-in-law, Kalikinkar Roy, who adores her for helping him every time he calls her. Because Dayamoyee is so caring and Kalikinkar no longer has a wife, he callers her mother. Kalikinkar is deeply religious and prays to the Hindu goddess, mother Kali, but one day dreams both mothers are the same. He believes Dayamoyee is an incarnation of the goddess Kali.
At first Dayamoyee is hesitant because she is torn between her old life and her potential new one. She is transformed from a position of servitude to one of power. But the new role is not without its difficulties. She enjoys the attention but is now treated as someone who is untouchable and all-powerful. Life as a goddess is not at all easy as it is a burden as well.
As all this happened when Umaprasad was away at school, when he returns he is quite horrified. He symbolizes the new generation, which has different beliefs. To him, the line between religion and superstition has been crossed. Umaprasad tries to reason with her and his father but doesn't have an easy time. In effect we have conflict with the new generation with the old generation (or the son and the father) over religious traditions.
Those less familiar with India may find this movie to be especially exotic because it portrays a vibrant culture and different way of life. The interesting story is made spellbinding by the captivating music. If you enjoy world cinema Devi is worth checking out.
Two Daughters (Teen Kanya)(1961) Director: Satyajit Ray;
Two Daughters (Teen Kanya) is an early film by Satyajit Ray. It presents the stories of a girl and a young woman. Both stories are independent of each other and do not have the same charters, but comparisons could be made between them.
The first story is about a man who becomes the new postmaster of a remote village. Although country life is not unpleasant, he is used to living in the city so it is all quite new to him. The postmaster's servant is a young girl named Ratan, and the story is really about their friendship, which is quite touching and memorable.
The film concludes with a story about a young man named Amulya, whose mother wants him to get married. Amulya isn't in a hurry to get married as he has more studies to complete. Amulya's mother arranges for him to meet a woman she would like him to marry, but he finds another woman, who is a tomboy, more to his liking. It might be her free spirit that Amulya finds attractive, but as marriage is a serious thing it also means she has to change her ways as climbing trees wouldn't be seen as proper behavior for a married woman.
You may be wondering why Teen Kanya is also called Three Daughters. It originally had three segments, but one was cut due to the subtitles not being finished in time for the first international release. Hence, Three Daughters became Two Daughters.
Satyajit Ray is a great storyteller and filmmaker. Ray communicates to us through several of our perceptions. The visual clues, such as looking deeply into the eyes of the charters, help us understand what the charters are feeling; while the music and sound, or the lack of it, intensifies the story. Ray has the ability to draw in the viewer quickly with the way he presents his movies. Two Daughters is a movie that makes an excellent introduction to Bengali cinema, as it will leave you thirsting for more.
Company Limited (Seemabaddha)(1971) Director: Satyajit Ray;
Company Limited (Seemabaddha) is Satyajit Ray's 1971 drama about the rise of a man's career. The first couple of minutes of the film bring us up-to-speed with what happened up to this point in the life of Shyamalendu Chatterjee, the main character. It saves us from having to slowly figure this out over the course of the film and gives us a reference for taking in the rest of the story. Shyamalendu is likeable because he is successful and ambitious. We can’t help but think that life is good, at least for some people.
After receiving a letter from Hindustan-Peters that he got the job as an executive, but before he actually started working, Shyamalendu marries a woman named Dolan. His personal life is going well and they have a child; at work he is successful, and his future looks very promising as he is on the verge of a promotion. The story continues in the present time with his wife informing him that her sister Tutul is going to be visiting them for a couple weeks.
Perhaps not entirely intentional, Tutul makes a bit of tension in the house. Shyamalendu is taken in by her looks and there is chemistry between them. He jokingly comments that he wonders if he picked the right sister, but on some level, I think he was at least partially serious about it. When he last saw her she was just a girl, now Tutul is a beautiful woman. Tutul is taken by the glamour of life at the top but also sees its emptiness and that it has an unpleasant side too.
Company Limited shows us a story about playing the game of getting ahead in life. Life as the sales manager of a fan and lamp company isn’t without its troubles. There are some parallels between the successes and failures he experiences at work and home, giving a sense of balance to the story. Satyajit Ray makes the story interesting by having the main plot being easy to understand and straightforward while the more subtle parts keep us guessing and give us room to debate.
The Adversary (Pratidwandi)(1972) Director: Satyajit Ray;
The Adversary (1972) shows us life in Calcutta from the viewpoint of a young man named Siddhartha. He is a former medical student that now needs to get a job because his father passed away. His sister has a job but because gossip has it that she and her boss may be up to more than just work, he would love to find a job so she wouldn't have to keep working there.
But getting a job isn't easy for our hero Siddhartha. With interviewers asking a barrage of questions on many random topics placing a job is a difficult task. It doesn't help any that several dozen people are all competing for the same job. As in any tough job market, knowing the right people and having connections is more important than education or qualifications.
An underlining message in the film is political, more specifically that the system is a difficult one and unjust. In the first interview we see Siddhartha on, he is asked if he is a communist. He avoids the question well and they point that out too. Towards the end of the film, there is a scene resembling vertigo that has a hammer and sickle on the background, which is the well-known communist symbol. All in all, I would say the political nature of the movie is subtle but undeniably present.
I was in suspense for some time wondering why the movie is titled The Adversary. By the end, I had a good idea what the title is referring to but I will save you the suspense and let you decide for yourself.
Satyajit Ray is a remarkable director. The Adversary is the first part of his Calcutta Trilogy. Because this movie has a fairly simple story about life, it is one people can relate with. If you enjoy world cinema, The Adversary is a compelling portrait of the effects of city life in India.
The Stranger (Agantuk)(1991) Director: Satyajit Ray;
The Stranger (Agantuk) is a drama about a man who suddenly interrupts the lives of a family. A woman receives a letter from her uncle that left India when she was a small child. As 35 years have passed, it comes as quite a surprise that he now wants to see her and her family. Her husband is suspicious that he may be an imposter or have ulterior motives in wanting to see them. Her son is more trusting and accepts him as his great uncle and is spellbound by the stories of his travels.
Although the story is simple, it has a lot of suspense. The family is put into a strange and difficult place as they treat someone they don't know as honored guest. Their own suspicions do not serve them well as it makes them uncertain of who he is. The stranger is philosophical, worldly, and claims to have experiences that are nearly unbelievable. To a degree, the stranger doesn't help settle their doubts with firm evidence or even conviction that he is really her uncle. He merely tells them that they will believe he is or is not their uncle on their own.
Agantuk is Satyajit Ray's last film; it has everything one would expect of this great director and is sure to please his fans. Satyajit Ray is a remarkable Bengali director that has the talent to capture one's attention and make one totally absorbed in the world he presents. Although I have never been disappointed by any of his movies, I have to say that The Stranger is one of my favorite films by Satyajit Ray.