When I first watched the Hindi version for our podcast on iconic female Hindi film characters and Amrita asked me what I thought of it, I said something like "It's powerful, but I never want to see it again." Since then, my tolerance for certain depictions of certain kinds of female suffering has improved, and good thing, too, since the earlier Bengali version is minute-for-minute just as painful as Guru Dutt's. I don't mean it's painful because it's badly made or boring. I mean painful in that watching these people make these choices and treat each other as they do is excruciating. This whole "we're suffering because that is the logical result of the only choices society gives us" basis of stories, whether the stories are written at the time depicted or after, is, naturally, kind of limiting unless the storyteller is really creative. Maybe it had fuller budgets/resources or longer run time, or its subtitles are better, or maybe just because I saw it first, but I much prefer the Hindi version of this story. The Bengali one feels very repetitive to me: Bhutnath (Uttam Kumar) looks lost/confused/sad,
Jalsaghar. The debauched men don't seem as horrible, Chhoti Bahu's instant alcoholism doesn't seem as tragic, and Bhutnath has little personality at all. I'm often happy not to be hammered by histrionics, but if any story calls for them, surely it's this one. Amrita and I have discussed at length how Uttam Kumar's tendency to play things calmly and quietly works so well to balance out more dramatic expressions by people like Suchitra Sen, but in this film, nobody cranks it up, and the whole thing feels a bit limp and unimportant despite its beautiful, grandiose surroundings.
Saheb Bibi Golam is on the Angel youtube channel if you want to see for yourself. And according to this recent story in ToI, there will soon be a new contemporary Bengali adaptation of the story.
If there's one thing I've learned from Bengali movies, it's very risky to fall in love with young Soumitra Chatterjee unless you're very sure you're in a film that is at least part comedy. Apur Sansar, Khudito Pashan, Devi, "Samapti" in Teen Kanya, Charulata, Kapurush, Saat Pake Bandha, Jora Dighir Chowdhury Paribar, Baghini, and Teen Bhubaner Pare (which released just one year before this and which I also wanted to rewatch last week but my DVD isn't working * sob *)...it doesn't go well. I actually love this about his dramatic roles, these movies that show that love and/or marriage aren't easy and that, regardless of what your parents or society at large say, it may be helpful to know someone for more than a few weeks before you marry them. Plus these stories set up many opportunities for him to look pensive or sad, for which I am America's biggest sucker.
Calcutta Trilogy.) In addition to these big-picture changes causing characters to bump up against each other, there are little squabbles over meals, shopping, mending, and commuting that make these characters relatable. There's also a surprising intimacy between the newlyweds when they're finally behind the door of their own room (no, not like that), finding joy in each other's company and in their little team having made it through another day.
But isn't this adorable?
Thank goodness for this Goodreads summary and discussion of the Sarat Chandra Chatterjee novel on which the film is based. Poor video quality and no subtitles mean I wouldn't have stood a chance otherwise. I have much dislike for Parineeta and Devdas, and I'm not sure I would have watched this film had I known who was responsible for the story before I began. Datta is one of Suchtira Sen's last films, and she's as strong as ever in yet another romantic pair separated by religion and money. But to be honest, I stuck with this film through my ignorance only because I wanted to see this iteration of Suchitra-Soumitra, especially once I realized she is the instigator in their flirtations (see the ol' "get him teach you how to use the microscope" ruse below).
Before I leave Datta entirely, I should note that Samit Bhanja is kind of a jerk in it and Utpal Dutt is in his usual magnificent roaring form. If you've seen this film (or read the novel) and have more substantial thoughts than I do [Editor Self says: not hard], please do leave comments.
Chander Pahar has the most aggressive "this movie is a Big Freaking Deal!" marketing I've noticed yet in Bengali cinema. Whether it actually is a Big Freaking Deal is a matter best discussed by people who know more about contemporary movies than I do, but I like the film very much. (And no, I haven't read the book, which may make a difference.) Set in British East Africa in the early 1900s, the story follows the gleeful adventures of Shankar, a young man from small-town Bengal, who sets out for a job in the Uganda Railways and, at least in the movie, never meets a risk he doesn't love. After facing down several scary animals (the film opens with him running, panicked, from elephants), he joins a Portuguese explorer on a search for diamonds. More dangers, more adventures, lather, rinse, repeat.