(India, 1961, 114 minutes, b/w, 16 mm, in Bengali with English subtitles)
Satyajit Ray’s films are soft-focus photos of the human mind and the human heart at work. Although set on the Indian subcontinent, his themes—the work of relationships, the emotions that seem to inhere in the natural world, and music as a sensory world unto itself—have had universal appeal. "Villains bore me," Ray has said, and his films have a deeply optimistic soul that audiences around the world have loved for two generations. Few filmmakers have had as breathtaking a debut as Ray’s stunning PATHER PANCHALI, in 1955, but few also have been able to follow early success with as thoughtful and eloquent a filmography as Ray’s in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. TWO DAUGHTERS is one of the truly evocative works in that filmography, and one of Ray’s most characteristic.
TWO DAUGHTERS is an anthology film, based on the stories "The Postmaster" and "The Conclusion" by India’s great storyteller Rabindranath Tagore. TWO DAUGHTERS was one of many works which marked the centennial of Tagore’s birth; Ray had just finished RABINDRANATH TAGORE, a loving documentary on his spiritual progenitor, which many critics feel is the best biographical film ever made in India. Ray has always felt himself to be a storyteller in the Tagore vein, drawing inspiration from the other arts, and funneling the knowledge of many cultures into his closely observed portraits of the Indian universe. Ray attended college at the institution founded by Tagore, and Tagore had been a close friend of Ray’s artist father. Tagore had left his imprint deep upon the university at Santiniketan, and Ray has often expressed his gratitude for the Tagore-like spirit of renaissance he found there. Like Tagore, Ray has schooled himself in many arts—painting and writing as well as cinematography—and beginning with TWO DAUGHTERS, he wrote the musical scores for his films as well.Like other anthology films (the British DEAD OF NIGHT, the Italian BOCCACCIO 70, the American NEW YORK STORIES) TWO DAUGHTERS’ peculiar project is to put more than one story in the same frame. In "The Postmaster," a city boy, Nandanal, is assigned to a country post office. There, he forms a unique friendship with Ratan, the ten year-old girl who keeps the tiny outpost running. "Samapti," or "The Conclusion," the second tale, is a story of a lawyer, Amulya, and his love for Mrinmoyee, his wife via an arranged marriage. There was originally a third tale in the film’s Indian version. This was "Monihara" ("The Lost Jewel"), a ghost story about a greedy wife’s post-mortem vengeance on her husband. This episode was deleted for the first American release. The forty minutes of "The Postmaster" are filled with humaneness and with a profound awareness of the subtleties and contradictions of platonic love. Ratan is a person of remarkable dignity, incarnating one of Ray’s most cherished themes: the ability of a great soul to teach others—the callow, the churlish, the naïve—how to be more human. But the youthful postmaster brings Ratan much that is new as well. He brings her the alphabet, and the knowledge it represents, but perhaps more important, he brings to her the respect of his close attention, and under his gaze she flourishes. The two of them make their isolated post office in rural Bengal a link with a distant, almost unknown outside world. Much that is between them is unsaid, and little breaks the silence except the humming of mosquitoes in the swaying bamboo groves. The Conclusion is longer, and more novelistic. Mrinmoyee is a rebel, a tomboy, and her growth to maturity in the film doesn't mean that she puts her rebelliousness behind her as a vestige of adolescence. Amulya takes her far more seriously after she rejects him, and his pursuit of his bride shows his own coming-of-age.
Both these stories, outwardly so different, share the same preoccupations. Both are fascinated with the migrations, here from city to country, that are so important in the shifting seas of Indian demography. Ray himself had been loath to leave his bustling native Calcutta for the backwardness of Santiniketan, which was "miles from nowhere," but he called his time in the country "my most formative years." Both stories look wonderingly at youth, that most difficult of times, and paint it with the remarkable integrity and sympathy very characteristic of Ray’s view of childhood. Both stories are also intrigued with the placid surfaces and rapid undercurrents of rural life, where madness often lives incongruously side by side with the prosaic, on dusty country lanes and rainy small town streets. Some have called TWO DAUGHTERS Chekhovian, two stories of deceptively ordinary everyday life that seem placed side by side almost casually, but whose affinities are deep and strong. Like a dragonfly hovering delicately over a still woodland pond, comedy and sadness are balanced precisely in these two tiny masterpieces, and Satyajit Ray’s lovely TWO DAUGHTERS echoes in the mind, its images footfall on a quiet path through the soul.
THE TREE (GAACH) profiles Soumitra Chatterjee, Satyajit Ray’s favorite leading man who acted in fourteen of his twenty-seven films. In the words of one reviewer, "If Marcello Mastroianni was the alter ego of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, Soumitra Chatterjee was Ray’s voice on screen."
The film permits Chatterjee to tell much of his story in his own words, but also includes film clips, interviews with former leading ladies, and a fictional patua, an itinerant painter and songster played by fellow actor Robi Ghosh, to provide other details of Chatterjee’s biography. A life rich with accomplishments emerges: in addition to appearing in almost two hundred Bengali films, Chatterjee is a playwright who has adapted a number of foreign classics for the Bengali stage, a director in his own right (of plays), and a prolific poet who writes much of his work in the middle of the night.
Catherine Berge made THE TREE with the enthusiastic participation and encouragement of producer Ismail Merchant, who has been active in the restoration and rediscovery of Ray’s work. The film premiered in London in September, 1997 and was featured at the International Film Festival of India in January, 1998. It will be released in the United States at the end of May. A reporter for one of India’s English-language newspapers, The India Express, wrote that the film attracted a large but skeptical audience--principally because it had been made by a foreign director. But Berge’s sincere handling of the subject ultimately won the skeptics over.The film takes its title from an exhortation to Chatterjee from his father: "to grow up like a tree which provides shelter and bears fruit for the benefit of mankind."
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
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