Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Shakha Proshakha is one of my favourite Satyajit Ray films

Before I start justifying my l'affaire d'amour with this amazing film, let me give you a bit of background to my post.

Last Saturday, we (Rahul, Rini, Mouli et moi) met at our place for a Chinese night, read Chinese food that we wanted to experiment with. Like most of our evenings, we were in for good food, good wine and a good movie with some food for thought. The mood was for a Bengali touch so we chose a Ray movie: Shakha Proshakha. Now, the junta was a bit disappointed at it, except me of course, who suggested the movie.

Next day, Rini sent me the following link where eminent Bengali film makers criticized it as well.

OK, so here are few of the aspects of this great film that I like and why:

---The opening scene:
Despite popular opinion on the scene being too long and dramatic, I would like to say that it typified the banal act of reminiscence and retrospection by an ageing father, who happens to be a stalwart in the society. So, we saw a bit of pride, glimpses of defiance, an overt declaration of love, concern, gratification, a little self-pity and a lot of vulnerability. His raving occupied quite a bit of reel time but mind you, it was no ordinary morning. It was the day to commemorate his eclectic past and the flattering present: it was the day of his 60th birth anniversary. And a day when he got a chance to pour his heart out to his mentally scarred, physically dormant, once brilliant second son. Of course he got carried away. Of course he was oh-so-rhetoric. Aren't we all, when we meet the fringes of our broken self?

---The characters being one-dimensional:
I would like to know which one?! The father(Ananda)though being a well-respected, even worshipped retired executive, who climbed the ladder of name-fame-prosperity by sheer hard work and honesty, who was widely acclaimed for his humanitarian contributions often displayed naive sense of tinted outlook, be it about his family or the world in general.
The eldest son (Prabodh), an erudite, composed head honcho who sits on an epitome of familial and professional authority, falls from grace as his not-so-respectful repertory unfolds on the dinner table.
The second son (Prashanto), an obvious ideal intellectual with abundant prospects immerses himself in a hapless state of non-conformity instead.
The third (Prabeer), painted in a shade of misguided atrocity, rises to the occasion by a humble gush of self-realization and compliance.
(Pratap), the fourth son, the idealistic rebel also had his share of doubting self-efficacious moments.
The elder daughter-in-law (Uma) and the younger one (Tapati) were painted in the light of opposites too-that of classical candor and contemporary resilience.

---The movie being simplistic in its approach:
People say that in the context of ek-nambari and du-nambari the treatment of the concept was almost child-like. I beg to differ.
Firstly, human beings, especially workaholic, undaunted go-getter types spend so much of their time and energy in the pursuit of their goal, they mostly end up missing the finer nuances of life. In the hustle bustle of our daily chores, how many of us actually find time to reflect? To evaluate right and wrong? To surpass the all-encompassing trivia in knowing the entirety beyond? Plus, we believe what we want to believe. Historically parents have been blinded by the unquestioning love and devotion for their children. The rational of the wise and the perceptive get putty in the hands of innocent naïveté. Life, perhaps, is more simple than we’d like to admit, lest the absurdity of our confused mind (read complexity) gets trivialized.

That’s what I like about Ray. He depicts life as it is. Like a matured bystander witnessing it with great élan and objectivity. It’s not a carried-away(ed) overture of ecstatic adolescence.

Mouli sent me these 2 links that truly says what I meant to say about Ray movies.

1 comment:

Somanjana said...

Here is Rini's comment:

"Okay - I finally managed to read the links as well (the ones that Mouli sent you) - they seem to be about Satyajit Ray movies in general and thus do not really help resolve the issue that perturbed me so - "why this particular movie did not move me as much Ray's earlier works had" - Please note that I enjoy most of his other works immensely (I say most since I haven't seen Shatranj ke Khilaari, Abhijaan, etc yet - or Jano Aranya, Ganashatru)...In fact just the other day a couple of scenes from Kanchenjangha flashed by my mind and I caught myself smiling for no apparent reason ...
In my personal quest to understand my initial reaction to Shakha Proshakha I googled a bit yesterday and came upon some articles that helped me understand things a little better - pl note I say understand and not "like" :) Of course this wouldn't have happened without the verbal volleys and research/write up etc so I'm glad that we disagreed!

Here's one of the links that I was talking about - it's courtesy Dilip Basu at UCSC:;
But this is the actual part about this specific movie:
"The third and last phase saw Ray's "crisis" come full circle. He became even more isolated and distant, telling his telos in enunciatory terms. Unlike the early Ray genres, his films became frankly "wordy," declaring a didactic Ray voice that sought social correctives through acts of enunciation in cinema in Ghare Baire. Based on a Tagore novel, Ray was recasting Tagore's time-tested shibboleths against narrow nationalism, mix of religion and politics, demagogues and their dishonesties. Stricken by two heart attacks, Ray was now involuntarily isolated on doctor's orders. When his condition somewhat stabilized in 1987, he begged his doctors to let him make a film or two: modest family dramas shot indoors under their watchful eyes.

Before he passed on, he made three such pluvies (or movies that were more plays than movies) marking the years 1988, 1989 and 1990 as if he was counting time and using the medium for the message. Ganashatru addressed the questions of the late Capitalist corruption, and manipulation of religion, people, politics and environment. It is Ray's contemporary Indian version of Ibsen's Enemy of the People. Shakha Prashakha also addresses issues of the late Capitalism as it impacts family values corroding traditional generational bonding on the inside, and the fetishization of "black" money as the individuated upwardly ambitious try to make a living on the outside. To the protagonist-enuciator, who like Ray, is a heart patient, "honesty" becomes an obsessive compulsion mediated in the mood swings of music and madness. The signifier is a son who suffers the swings, seldom talks and is dysfunctional."

Also here's a Wikipedia link that clarified the rumor I mentioned y'day - our sources had been my Dad and Rahul's Mom :)) - so I had to google again to try and substantiate my argument that there was something lacking in the visual presentation - in the lack of imagery and symbolism - something that left me dissatisfied as a viewer - Sandip Ray was the director of photography on Satyajit Ray's last three films, Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People, 1988), Shakha Proshakha (The Branches of the Tree, 1991) and Agantuk (The Visitor, 1991).;

Till the next one then :P