Wednesday, 2 July 2014

DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Films of Satyajit Roy #TiffBellLightbox

Sekhar (Robi Ghosh), Asim (Soumitra Chatterjee) and
Hari (Samit Bhanja) have imbibed in foul rural liquor
and share in delectably rollicking manly camaraderie.
Days and Nights in the Forest (1969) *****
Dir. Satyajit Ray
Starring: Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Samit Bhanja, Subhendu Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh, Pahari Sanyal, Kaveri Bose, Simi Garewal

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The tradition of male bonding in the cinema is a time honoured indulgence which has yielded some of the great pictures of all time. In a world of Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni, Barry Levinson's Diner and Tin Men, Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, Hal Ashby's The Last Detail, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, John Milius's Big Wednesday, Donald Shebib's Goin' Down The Road, Alexander Payne's Sideways and yes, even Todd Phillips's The Hangover, there are none that quite have the unique power of Satyajit Ray's hilarious, powerful and deeply moving Days and Nights in the Forest. At times, Ray seems to tower above everybody.

The gentlemen from Calcutta have secured the services
of a "lowly" local to run errands, but are too busy
smoking and drinking to look him in the face.
In some ways, Payne's Sideways might come closest in terms of its inclusion and portrayal of strong female characters within the mix, but even that picture somehow pales in comparison to Ray's astounding 1969 masterpiece (yes, another one). What knocks Days and Nights in the Forest clear out of the ballpark is that its very core lies in exposing the utter madness and, to my mind, horror of colonialism upon indigenous societies which have suffered the cruel forced impositions of cultural domination by "civilized" nations. This is not to say Ray's approach is overtly political since such bludgeons are not in his cinematic vocabulary, but like his best films, it's a force that's so often roiling beneath the surface. If anything, Ray follows in the footsteps of Jean Renoir's immortal dramatic examinations of class and society - notably, The Rules of the Game. It is here he lays the track that divides town and country, Old World and New World, the upper middle class and those on the lowest rungs.

Sharmila Tagore is reunited with World of Apu co-star Soumitra Chatterjee.
The film opens with our four protagonists on a freewheeling road trip to the Palmau forests. The men engage in the kind of crude, hilarious banter one associates with such closely quartered camaraderie in both life and the movies. They couldn't be more different from each other and a good part of their machine-gun-paced patter involves the requisite slagging of their respective faults and traits, the quips and jabs always hovering on the border twixt the good-natured and the slashing.

The Alpha Male of the bunch is the attractive, cool-as-a-cucumber Asim (Soumitra Chatterjee, the title star of The World of Apu) and his followers are the goofy perpetual class clown Sekhar (Robi Ghosh), the dour play-it-by-the-book bureaucrat Sanjoy (Subhendu Chatterjee) and the pro-cricket champ Hari (Samit Bhanja) who's licking the wounds of a recent break-up. Upon entering the clearly rural state of Bihar, they stop at a village that the men immediately accept and proclaim as backwards.

They hire a dirt poor local to show them the way to the nearest state-run holiday bungalows and decide to keep him along as their personal slave. Proclaiming to all that they're of Calcutta's V.I.P. class, they've not bothered to secure the necessary reservation and permission slip to stay and insistently bribe the bungalow gatekeeper, knowing full well that he could lose his job. They order him about with the disdain they've tossed at their serving boy and demand a variety of services that are normally the purview of the man's wife, but ignoring his explanation that she's severely ill, they insist he perform the tasks they require.

Duli (Simi Garewal), the local "Native Girl"
is ripe for exploitation by the exploited.
The shenanigans continue when the fellows head to the village to wreak more imperialist-inspired havoc. They end up going to the local booze can where they guzzle back the most foul locally-distilled rotgut, get stinkingly drunk and make fun of the dark-complectioned "native" girls, whilst also praising their potential virtues as whores. Hari, however, is genuinely enamoured by the earthy charms displayed by the ravishing dusky tribal gal Duli (Simi Garewal).

The next day, the hung-over gents notice two gorgeously attired gals from the city who elegantly parade down the road. They follow them to their rustic, though clearly upscale cottage and spend a perfectly peaceful Jean-Renoir-like afternoon with these affluent Calcutta-born-and-raised babes. Aparna (Sharmila Tagore, Apu's bride in The World of Apu) and her widowed sister-in-law Jaya (Kaveri Bose) reside there with a garrulous old coot who is respectively their father and father-in-law. Cool cat Asim takes a fancy to Aparna whilst Sanjoy zeroes in on Jaya. Sekhar, as per usual, is just his nutty, good-humoured self. The ladies are unavailable later that evening, but all agree to convene the next morning at the cottage for breakfast.

The evening turns into an even more indulgent spree of boozing and carousing at the booze can, culminating in an insane romp in the middle of a country highway where they end up stopping a car and continuing to act as boors. Unbeknownst to our drunken louts, the high-class city chicks are in the car. Rather than express annoyance, the gals yuck it up big time as these Calcutta gentlemen romp about like frat boys.

The next day turns into an almost blow-by-blow fancy-schmancy Jean-Renoir-like picnic with mock-erudite conversation and a delightful parlour-style game which ends up revealing a whole lot about each one of the characters.

Fun and Games.
Not Always Fun.
Amidst all the aforementioned fun and games, though, Ray gradually metes out the dark undercurrents of this tale - the events themselves become more savage and eventually, even explosively violent, however the beats of the tale also reveal the deeply disturbing and resonant thematic subtexts. As Pauline Kael noted in her original review of the film, Ray presents "the subtlest, most plangent study of the cultural tragedy of imperialism; the young men are self-parodies - clowns who ape the worst snobberies of the British." And though these snobberies are amongst the worst, what ultimately hits you is this idea that virtually every corner of this nation has been tainted in one way or another by colonialism. For our clutch of young men of the self-proclaimed VIP persuasion, these Vitelloni of Calcutta, the film trenchantly (at least in terms of its deepest, darkest satirical elements) reveals the demands/burdens placed upon the strata of those who have bought into established (and establishment) modes of interaction and lifestyle.

This is the real journey undertaken by Ray's charmingly loutish protagonists. Whether they learn something (and/or change) or not (and yes, some do), ultimately seems less a concern than the journey itself and furthermore, these men at least recognize that they have disrupted a way of life (and in so doing, have created a mirror of their own lives for themselves to peer deeply into). In a sense, this almost forces them to acknowledge the (purported) 16th Century utterance by the British preacher John Bradford: "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." In fact, the four protagonists of Days and Nights in the Forest are as much the "I" of the phrase as those they have chosen, cavalierly, to exploit.

The colonized become the colonizers. The cycle of exploitation continues ever deeper, entrenched to the point that one wonders when it finally ends.

If it ever ends at all.

Days and Nights in the Forest is presented at TIFF Bell Lightbox on July 6, 2014 at 3:30pm as part of the TIFF Cinematheque series "The Sun and the Moon: The Films of Satyajit Ray". This might be your only chance to see this masterpiece the way it was meant to be seen, so get your tickets NOW and GO. Visit the TIFF website for further details by clicking HERE.


*BUYERS PLEASE NOTE* (Canadian Amazon) has a relatively cruddy collection of Satyajit Ray product and generally shitty prices. has a huge selection of materials (including music and books) and decent prices. Amazon.UK has a GREAT selection of Satyajit Ray movies from a very cool company called Artificial Eye (second these days only to the Criterion Collection). Any decent Chinatown sells region-free Blu-Ray and DVD players for peanuts. Just get one (or several - they can be that cheap) and don't be afraid of ordering from foreign regions. The fucking film companies should just merge the formats into one acceptable delivery method worldwide. Besides, you can order anything you want from any country anyway.