Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Renoir's "The River" - A nice movie
Last weekend I’ve seen the movie "The River" in New York’s Lincoln Center of Performing Arts’ Walter Reade Theater. The movie is a beautiful rhythmic adaptation of Rumer Godden's autobiographical novel and I think it’s one of the best movies ever made about India by a non-Indian. French director Jean Renoir's The River, filmed on location in West Bengal, India , was his first color film and also first film in English.
The story was seen through the eyes of Harriet, an imaginative English teenager living with her family near the banks of the River Ganges. Her father was the Jute Mill "Saheb" (White Factory Manager) who adapted the lifestyle of the subcontinent. The family consists of her three sisters, brother, parents and housekeeper Nanny who is superstitious as well as wise in nature.
As the river flows in her lazy pace, Harriet spends her leisurely days observing exotic Indian life of Fisher Boatmen, grocers, factory workers, village women etc. She shares her world with her friend Valerie who just returned from her school in England and Melanie whose late mother was an Indian and father a British Jute mill official.
Suddenly Captain John, a crippled American soldier of WW1, comes to live with his widower cousin (Melanie's father) who lives near Harriet's family along the river. This handsome, young, soldier creates the ripples although to different extent in Harriet, Valerie, and Melanie’s heart. He was like a new flower of spring in the girls’ lazy monotonous life.
Set against the background of an eternal flowing river, Renoir proved that change is the only constant thing in life. The tragedies like death of Boggie (little brother of Harriet) and Captain John’s departure ,was easily forgot as they got the touch of a new life….Harriet’s new born sister.
Alongwith the nice rural scenery of Bengal, Renoir explores deeper into the Indian society through festivals like Diwali and Holi. He also tells the viewer about the socio-economical scenario of Bengal and the human condition in pre independence era of 1940’s.
"At times Renoir's attempt to grasp the river's essence seems about to sink under the film's layers of conventions. The River is brittle with clichés that sound culled from popular romances and Introduction to Eastern Philosophy." Said Peter Keough the American critics in The Boston Phoenix, "But that may be the point. The search for meaning ends not in understanding but in an artifact, which itself demands interpretation." Although from western interpretation, which might sound true, but from an Indian perspective, I think Renoir mingled the two cultures quite well in a balanced manner.
"The River flows, constant yet ever-changing." Said Judge Steve Evans in his DVD review "To those who immerse themselves in these waters, Renoir's stirring love letter to India delivers as great a gift as a cinephile could hope to receive from an artist." The statement does an absolute justice to the great work.
Influence of Renoir on Satyajit Ray is a well-known fact and Ray uttered it in many of his interviews. I think Ritwik Ghatak’s "Titas ekti Nadir Naam" and Rajen Tarafder’s "Ganga" complements Renoirs "The River" with their Indian views. Instead of portraying two families, these films go into more details of the people, who lives at the banks of the rivers, and captures a more wider canvas.
At the time when there was no ‘software boom’, no ‘Hi Tech revolution’, Hollywood stereotypically portrayed India as the land of Tiger, Elephants, snakes and Sadhus. Renoir showed the courage of doing something different. It is of course different and even after more than half century, when people have no time look at themselves, the movie reminds them the basics of their life.