Nagarik (1952)

25 06 2008

A wonderfully crafted family drama in the same vein of Mikio Naruse and Tran Anh Hung, but also one that is ultimately too single-minded in its efforts at being bleak and unsettling. That said, it is a might impressive film, especially considering that it is Ritwik Ghatak’s debut. The attempts at poetry are a bit over the top, but then again, this is 1951. The way in which the more poetic touches blend in with the otherwise very straight-forward / slice of life aesthetic is groundbreaking, if not entirely revolutionary. Of course, Ghatak’s colleague, Satyajit Ray would (sort of) perfect a similar story in his debut Pather Panchali but this is still more than worth while.

The Babu family has recently been demoted to “middle class” status. They all struggle to adjust with fond of memories of their more extravagant life planted deeply within in their minds. The family must now depend on the son, Ramu, to provide financial report. He applies for a job, but a decision isn’t to be made until the end of the month. He remains optimistic, however, and promises to get his family back on track by the end of the month. The other family members see things a bit differently, though. Mother is skeptical and irritated, not only by Ramu’s unrealistic visions but also by the persistence of the land lord. As he attempts to restore the family order, Ramu must also juggle his relationship with Uma. In the mean time, a guest (sent by a family friend) arrives to ease the financial burdens.

Within the course of the first twenty minutes, Ghatak sets up what seems to be a simple family drama. Not unlike Ozu (or Naruse), he carefully establishes all the intricacies found in a typical day of a family. Upon this setup, though, the conflict is dramatically thrown into play. The family is struggling and they have to depend on their eldest son to provide financial support. Now, the focus is on Ramu and we get somewhat of a angsty young adult sensibility. The calendar motif definitely has the same sort of touch that the tea cup has in Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. This is all absolutely fine.

Then, Ghatak has to return back to the general life of the family. The sequences that depict the family confrontations are much more stale in comparison. Never do the conversations seem like anything more than just slightly articulate whining. When characters constantly present a “woe is me” things begin to feel a little dramatized. Its not that the situation that the Babu family is in should be downplayed but its just that the film tries so hard to get across just how terrible a life of poverty is. Instead of having characters constantly repeat lines attempt to beat in the tragedy, it could have been shown visually. Ghatak does have a good eye for visuals, but perhaps it is the rather supar print quality that dilutes this strength.

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