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Kapurush (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on September 14, 2013

Amitabha Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) is a young screenwriter from Calcutta, doing research in the country for a script.  His car breaks down in a tea-growing district, and he is invited to stay at the home of plantation manager Bimal Gupta (Haradhan Bannerjee).  Upon arrival at the house, Amitabha is stunned to see Gupta’s wife Karuna (Madhabi Mukherjee)… a woman he lost in college because of his inability to commit to marriage in uncertain times.  As Ami relives those painful memories, he tries to win Karuna back, attempting to entice her away from a loveless marriage to a cynical alcoholic… but she remains cold and aloof.

This short film (74 minutes, a companion to the slight farce Mahapurush) is the weakest of Ray’s three works with Madhabi Mukherjee, but suffers only by comparison.  Judging it by its own merits reveals a solid piece of storytelling.  The three principals are all in excellent form, with much of the acting left to non-verbal glances and gestures.

The title refers not just to Roy’s act of cowardice from the past.  Gupta is afraid to buck the caste system, despite feelings of isolation and loneliness, he cannot act on the camaraderie he feels towards his “lessers”.  Karuna’s cowardice is more mysterious, her motivations left for the viewer to decipher.  Is she afraid of the loss of security?  The stigma of divorce?  Is she perhaps afraid of losing the upper hand, which she seems to coyly enjoy holding over Ami’s head?

The abbreviated length leaves the film more of a fable than the richness of Charulata or Mahanagar, but Ray’s filmmaking prowess is in full display.  There’s a certain western influence at work, and maybe it’s just that I look for it in everything, but I detected a bit of film noir at play.  Most notably in the smoky saxophone score, an unusual touch for Ray.  But one sees it also in the dramatic framing, the close-ups on objects, the flashback structure.  Roy is a man haunted by his past, and Karuna has a touch of the femme fatale in her.  And in the final moments, she recalls Alida Valli in The Third Man.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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