Sunday, 6 July 2014

KANCHENJUNGHA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Films of Satyajit Ray @ TIFF Bell Lightbox #tiffcinematheque

Don't miss a single one of these great films on display at TIFF Bell Lightbox in the TIFF Cinematheque series "The Sun and the Moon: The Films of Satyajit Ray". From visionary programmer James Quandt, this is one of the most important retrospectives ever presented in Canada. If you care about cinema, you can't afford to miss even one. Heed the warning below!!! The Film Corner & Mr. Neeson mean business!!!
Left: Loving Mother, Dutiful Daughter - Right: Subservient Wife, Traditional Husband

Kanchenjungha (1962) ***** Dir. Satyajit Ray Starring: Chhabi Biswas, Karuna Bannerjee, Anil Chatterjee, Alaknanda Roy, Anubha Gupta, Arun Mukherjee, Subrata Sen, Sibani Singh, Vidya Sinha, Pahari Sanyal, N.Visanathan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Why accept a life of endless submission?" says Labanya (Karuna Bannerjee) to her daughter Monisha (Alaknanda Roy). Labanya knows a thing or two about arranged marriages and though she's never wanted for anything material, her life under the yoke of rich, powerful and conservative hubby Indranath (Chhabi Biswas) has meant slavish adherence to traditional household roles. Has he been cruel, physically or verbally abusive? No, but he's essentially expected a homemaker and baby maker rather than an equal partner. Labanya has, however, suffered the sexist indignity enough. Her only unmarried daughter must not suffer likewise.

All she really wants is her smart, beloved, kind, beautiful and charming daughter to finish her education, live her life as a modern woman and most of all, to marry for love. This will prove to be more easily desired than done. Indranath has assembled the whole family for a deluxe vacation in Darjeeling which overlooks the spectacular Mount Kanchenjungha, the second highest peak in the Himalayas. The conservative industrialist has two goals. One is to catch as many glimpses of the mountains as possible, the other is to provide a romantic backdrop for Mr.Banerjee (N.Visanathan), a wealthy young business associate to propose marriage (approved fully by Indranath) to daughter Monisha. Views of the Himalayas have proven elusive due to constant mist, but on the last day of the vacation, Indranath sets things up so Bannerje and Monisha will have as many opportunities as possible for "romance" and a formal marriage proposal.

Kanchenjungha is a first for Satyajit Ray on a number of fronts. Firstly, the film represents Ray's debut with an original screenplay written all on his lonesome (previous works were adaptations of existing literary material). Secondly, it was Ray's first film shot in colour (via his favourite cinematographer Subrata Mitra). Finally, he designed his screenplay so the action takes place over the course of one day and primarily plays out in real time over the course of the film's 102 minutes.

And what a perfect 102 minutes it is.

Ray's big challenge is to seamlessly create a kind of cinematic roundelay as all the assembled amongst Indranath's family meet, part, converge and careen along the same paths of Darjeeling's viewing mall of the Himalayas, all awaiting the moment when Bannerjee will pop the big question to Monisha. An even bigger challenge, and hence his desire to shoot in colour, is that Ray uses the ever shifting weather patterns of the mountain resort to contrast, parallel and even exerta considerable influence over the moods and actions of his characters.

And damn, if it doesn't work perfectly.

We meet Indranath's eldest daughter, an actress who long ago succumbed to an unhappy marriage arranged by her father to a man who knows all too well how badly these things can turn out. She harbours a secret, but little does she know the extent to which her cynical alcoholic husband knows all about it. And then, there is the one thing that keeps the marriage together, the sweet child endlessly indulged with a pony ride which never seems to have an end. When it does, will reconciliation or, at least, acceptance be possible? Nature will have its say.

There's Indranath's son, a goofy layabout Casanova who pretends to be a Bollywood hotshot in order to score with as many babes as possible. However, no family gathering (in both life and the movies) would be complete without a nutty Uncle who is the complete opposite of his industrialist brother and wishes to genuinely savour the nature of the mountain locale and does so rather obsessively with his handy-dandy birders' guide.

And because human comedy with dollops of melodrama must always include a major spanner in the works, nobody, but nobody counted upon the appearance of the brother of the family's long-dead tutor who has his bright, handsome, young nephew Ashoke (Arun Mukherjee) in tow. Ashoke's Uncle sees Indranath as a perfect person to give his nephew a job, but everyone gets more than they bargained for when the dashing young student meets and seems to connect with Monisha. For her part, Monisha does everything humanly possible to foil Bannerjee's attempts to propose marriage. Can love be far behind?

And through it all, nature progresses in its own way - from blazing sunlight to overcast skies to mist rising, obliterating all views, then the mist and clouds dissipating until all that remains is the bright, glorious sun shining upon the gorgeous snow-capped peaks of Mount Kanchenjungha. The dialogue crackles, the characters reveal all we need to know through their delightful conversations and the weather itself parallels the emotions and actions of all the characters, save perhaps for Indranath himself. He's been blind to the natural beauty, but also the feelings of his whole family. He's an island unto himself and as such might always have no awareness of anything but his own petty superiority.

Love, however, exists and Ray creates a film in which its overwhelming force and power have the potential to obliterate the status quo. Love usually conquers all in fairy tales, and though this is no fairy tale in a traditional sense, we still hope and pine and stamp our little tootsies to demand that love swallow everything whole along its rightful path, so that warmth and tenderness will take precedence over tradition and what's "proper".

The Gospel According to Satyajit Ray is that propriety has no business getting in the way of Cupid's powerful arrow. Kanchenjungha is a bubbling champagne that is often tempered with bitterness, but nature as always, will have its way and there is, finally, nothing more natural and overwhelming than the love that washes over all.

Kanchenjungha is presented at TIFF Bell Lightbox on July 10, 2014 at 9:00pm 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.