Ray has an unmatched feeling for the moments when a situation catches people unawares and minds perceptibly expand or contract when confronted with some infinitesimal stress. Mahanagar is particularly rich in these glimpses into minds at sea. (BFI Notes.)
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Penelope Houston was a great critic. We imagine her in a long skirt and a tightly fitted blouse, whose pearl buttons go all the way up to the neck; which she covers with a ruffle of fine lace. In her hands she has a long pole with an enormous net which she swishes over a meadow of wild flowers; the tall unruly grass undulating around her hips. The net goes down. It rises up again. And her face smiles out in exultation….
Let us look at her in action, as she uses her words to capture the essence of a masterpiece.
In the last scene of this film we see how, under the pressure of salaried employment, a couple disintegrates into two isolated individuals; both are alone and both are self-absorbed; Arati mistakenly thinking her husband is angry with her; Subrata soliloquising to himself about the meaning of work - it makes us weak, he says. Here are “two minds [that really are completely] at sea”. But then husband and wife reconcile, and walk together through the streets of Calcutta into an unknown future. The old world, with its well-established certainties based on custom and habit, has collapsed, and the big city has been invaded by odd stories whose endings no one can confidently predict. The only certainty is love, which provides the emotional resources these characters need to navigate the psychological states Penelope Houston describes in her insightful sentences. This film about a place whose foundations are suffering an earthquake.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Too often I criticise the critics. A couple of punches, a head butt; one carefully placed kick to the goolies, as they approach the postbox to mail their manuscript, usually has the effect I desire. Take that old fella… Down he goes, his sentences sprawled on the floor around him; “Grahame Greene as an early English example of transgendered martyrology” spreading across the pavement like vomit. As I stamp on “the aporia generated by an upper class whore whose infidelity becomes a fundamentalist religion” he pleads for his research grants, the three children at public school, the wife who works for the Macmillan Trust… Suddenly I see myself for the hooligan I am. I walk away, pleading youthful exuberance and too much literary testosterone. I crumple up rationality, and throw logic into the nearest dustbin.
Thursday, 7 August 2014
It is beautiful propaganda. Of a very strange sort… for it is true; providing we accept the film’s argument on its own terms.
This is unfair. It is true even if we do not agree with its assumptions; for even in real life there are women who are young, pretty and impossibly successful. Such sweet cupcakes! Red petals on a yellow fluffy bed. We watch as dainty fingers cradle little baskets of corrugated paper; and look on as an index finger tickles a red-tipped rim. They seem too nice to eat. The girls can’t decide… So lovely! They laugh. And giggle and flirt with the shop owner, who asks if he may photograph them. He says, whilst mimicking the gesture, slowly open your hands and smile down at your opening palms. It is his turn to chuckle now. He compares them to lotus flowers on lily pads. The girls shout and quiver with uncontainable laughter, and scoff-up his metaphor with their hilarity. We leave them to his crumbs.