Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

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Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby wpqx » Sun Oct 23, 2005 7:35 pm

Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Well been awhile since I've seen a Ray film, so I figured I was due. What I got was a film very typical of the master. It deals with peasants, it deals with the upper class, and it deals with man's inevitable corruptability. Survival is the key motivation in a Ray film. What a character thinks they'll do and what they do is always something that changes in the course of his film. It is funny in a way to see the pettiness of the main characters here, considered the most honored citizen of the town. They see a way to both help and exploit the town they live in. When food gets scarce though, they're the ones being exploited.

I must say first off that Distant Thunder is unquestionably one of Ray's best films. As a matter of fact, I don't recall being moved as much by any of his other films (The Middleman a possible exception). The story is depressing, as most of his work is, but perhaps I've seen enough of it to recognize it, and not be bothered by it. The story is like an Indian counterpart to Grave of the Fireflies. The only thing is no one really can explain the famine in this film. It was considered a "man made famine", and one that in reality killed over 5 million people in Bombay, some of the uncounted casualties of WWII I suppose.

It is Ray's first color film, and the first I've seen from him in color. It is bathed in natural light, and we get a feeling that perhaps Ray should have been making films in color the whole time. It stars Soumitra Chatterjee as Gangacharan, the Brahmin. If the man looks familiar it's because he appeared in 14 other Ray films. He is fantastic here, and much of his performance comes just from looking. He isn't big on dialogue in the film, but seeing his pompous attitude at the beginning, and that sad disgusted look towards the end. He is angry with his position. He doesn't feel he deserves this, but on the other hand he realizes that he too needs to survive.

Like all Ray films, this is a tale of humanity. The townspeople do what they can to help out, and in a moment of adversity they generally will come through for each other. Although many people starve and can't be helped, there is still a concern, and those who can help still do, particularly the Brahmin and his wife. It is atypical Ray, and one that should be seen by all.

Grade A
wpqx
 


Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby A » Fri Nov 04, 2005 7:22 am

Thanks for your review wpqx.
It is really a shame that so few films of Ray are available and thus only few people know his films. I've recently seen my third film by him, Mahanagar "The Big City" (1962), which was very good. Especially the ending, was one of the most powerful ones I've recently seen. The ending alone pulled my overall rating from **1/2 / **** to *** / ****. And it's still growing in my memory, like the other Ray films Pather Panchali and Aparajito I've seen. I also bought a very good book in which ALL his films are written about in detail. Sad to say it's in German, so no recommendation.
Well I'd love to see a film by him in color.
A
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby wpqx » Mon Dec 18, 2006 9:14 pm

To update I've also picked up a book about his films that covers each in detail, but as of yet haven't even started reading it. I've seen a couple more Ray films since Distant Thunder but none coming close to its magnificence. I'll also add that this film isn't included in the Index.
wpqx
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby A » Tue Dec 19, 2006 5:51 pm

I still haven't seen more than three of his films. I'd have to rely on imported DVDs for that, and that's probably what I'll do next year.
I've finally decided that I'll start to import DVDs on a regular basis, something which I had planned to do for over four years now, but haven't been able to pull of because of my financial situation.
But as of now, things are finally improving rapidly. I'll have a brandnew Laptop at the beginning of the new year, and I'll probably also purchase an MP3 player (yes, I'm still using an ancient CD-Player that has been repaired numerous times...).
A
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby madhuban » Wed Jan 03, 2007 3:04 pm

The only thing is no one really can explain the famine in this film. It was considered a "man made famine", and one that in reality killed over 5 million people in Bombay, some of the uncounted casualties of WWII I suppose.

Distant Thunder is based on a Bengali novel set in the 40s. The famine of 1943 is referred to as a 'man-made famine' because in the WW II context, there was acute shortage of food, and the British administration took away the lion's share of the civilian food supply for the upkeep of its own army, and left millions to starve.

Glad you liked the film, wpqx, and Soumitra Chatterjee's brilliant essay of Gangacharan. My favourite moment in the film is when the proud, pompous brahmin tries to cross a rather ricketty bridge and before stepping on, tests it with his umbrella to see if it would give way. It is an iconic image from a film that talks about the dissolution of social strata in the face of famine. Gangacharan's transformation from a high caste man who expects privileges, to a man who begins to question the very basis of the casteist social order, is pulled together in the evocative image of the ricketty bridge that could give way regardless of the caste of the person stepping on it.

M
madhuban
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby trevor826 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 4:32 pm

there was acute shortage of food, and the British administration took away the lion's share of the civilian food supply for the upkeep of its own army, and left millions to starve.

Thank you Madhuban, too many people in the UK still believe that the British Empire was a glorious thing where we brought civilization and education to the hordes. As far as I'm concerned, Britain owes a huge debt to each country we ravaged and raped, also to the people of those countries.

As a side line do you know of any good books written from the Indian point of view concerning our illustrious (sic) imperial days?

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby madhuban » Thu Jan 04, 2007 5:41 pm

How the hell do I tackle a question like that, Trevor! The problem is, most of my reading happens to be in this area, and there is such a wealth of extraordinary scholarship that it is hard to pick. Off the cuff, here are some books that will make provocative reading. I have also included American scholars whose work on the colonial period in India is no less significant.

Masks of Conquest - Gauri Vishwanathan
The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism - Ashis Nandy
Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge - Bernard Cohn
The Rhetoric of English India - Sara Suleri
Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World - Partha Chatterjee
Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India - Ranajit Guha
Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890-1940 - Dipesh Chakraborty
Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India - David Hardiman
Recasting Women: Essays in South Asian History - Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid eds
Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History - Svati Joshi (ed.)
The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India - Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (ed.)
Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India - Nicholas Dirks
Imagining India - Ronald Inden

M
madhuban
 

Re: Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray

Postby trevor826 » Thu Jan 04, 2007 8:13 pm

Thanks Madhuban I'll see if any of these are available through our library, should make interesting reading.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 


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