Movie Review: Kanchenjungha (1962)

This review was written by Somanjana C. Bhattacharya

Writer: Satyajit Ray
Director: Satyajit Ray

Erick Avari
Karuna Bannerjee … Labanya Roy Chaudhuri
Chhabi Biswas … Indranath Choudhuri
Anil Chatterjee … Anil
Anubha Gupta … Anima
Arun Mukherjee … Ashoke
Alaknanda Roy … Monisha
Nilima Roy Chowdhuri
Pahadi Sanyal … Jagadish

Synopsis: Kanchenjunga is not a story. It comprise snapshots of various human characteristics like pride, simplicity, carnal desires, thoughtlessness, romance, heroism and above all triumph of human spirits over conventional, social idiosyncrasy. All this happens in the hill station of Darjeeling, in the lap of nature with the picturesque eastern Himalayas in the backdrop.

In a nutshell, Kanchenjungha is a film about a wealthy, classy family: their views, experiences and approach towards life with the central theme revolving around a prospective matrimonial alliance between the younger daughter of the family and a well-established consultant.

The Film: The screenplay begins by presenting the last day of the vacation for the Chowdhurys headed by Raibahadur Indranath Chowdhury (Chhobi Biswas). The opening scene is a collage of shots, which establishes different members of the family and their respective modus operandi. The melodious grandfather clock announces 4″o clock in the background.

We find Indranath keen to visit the Mall in anticipation of a positive consequence of schema related to his younger daughter, Monisha’s (Alakananda Ray) alliance with his newly found prodigy Mr.Banerjee (N.Visanathan). His wife Labanya (Karuna Banerjee), a timid, sensitive lady taking time to wrap-up last minute packing. Her brother Jagadish Chatterjee (Pahari Sanyal), an ardent bird watcher in this film consciously avoids Indranath’s speculation by taking refuge in a book. Indranath’s only son enacted by (Anil Chatterjee) hurries to meet his date while the elder daughter Anima (Anubha Gupta), a suave, stylish woman receives and promptly hides a correspondence in her purse. We could get a glimpse of her nervous glances revealing a possible secretive endeavor amidst marital sanctity. Her husband Shankar (Haridhan Mukherjee) looks laid back and sarcastic with mixed feelings towards the latest groom-hunting process initiated by his in-laws. There lies an underlying current of tension between him and his wife that gets confirmed by his advice to Monisha about not to get married without falling in love citing the ineffectiveness of his own status.

Cut to a parallel sequence of an elderly, middle-class man exhausted of climbing up the stairs to the Mall with his humble nephew Ashok (Arun Mukherjee) who apparently is searching for a job.

It is mentionable that the background of all the above characters, their thought process and behavioral traits have been brilliantly presented through series of well conceived dialogues. Yes, only dialogues. No third person narratives. No visual manifestation in terms of flash back, dream sequences etc. In fact, the master storyteller has been able to generate such an evocative dialogue sequences that at the end of the film, the audience acquire full capacity to judge each and every character in the light of respective rationale.

It is also noteworthy that Ray’s characters never surpass the humane status quo. They reflect relevant cognitive behavior and contextual influences. Be it “Siddartha” in Pratidwandi or “Arindam” in Nayak, one can never expect Ray’s protagonists molded in typical ubermanesque image in stark contrast to the so-called Heroes of Hollywood and Bollywood.

Kanchenjungha substantiate that. The elitist, urban Mr.Banerjee asserts boastfully about his professional and materialistic achievements. He even confesses about his clandestine foreign affairs while wooing his ladylove Monisha. This refined gentleman also depicts a prosaic approach towards conjugality and life in general. Towards the end he displays an extremely liberal and tolerant attitude, which is commendable in the realms of dominating, patriarchal association.

Although we see Monisha mostly in pensive, escapist mode, we also get to catch her in rare vivacity while interacting with Ashok — a chapter, which hints at the potential of romance between the wellborn Monisha and Ashok of humble existence, who transcend commonality by disobeying the archetypal narcissistic Indranath Chowdhury.

The Anima-Shankar track provides an in-depth analysis of a marriage going haywire due to lack of understanding and interpersonal rapport. Through a thought-provoking, evocative conversation between the two we witness the gradual transition of the couple in pursuit of a fulfilling married life post admission of their respective peccancy – Anima indulging into an illicit love-affair and Shankar imbibing ancestral traits like gambling and mindless extravagance.

The promiscuous son perfects the art of flattery and triviality in the romantic surrounding of Darjeeling.

The ever cheerful, simplistic and benevolent Jagadish portrays the perceptive ornithologist, who is detached from worldly desires but plays his part well in comprehending the nuances of familial situations.

After a lifetime of unconditional subjugation to her husband, Labonya ascends to an assertive, inspiring parent.

Even Chhobi Biswas had his uncharacteristic vulnerable moments when he tries to justify his accurate decision-making capability to his uncertain wife or displays childish exuberance while talking to Ashok.

The brilliant soundtracks right from the Lepcha song to the appropriate background score like the bird whistle, noisy interlude of the radio or jingle of bells tied to the yaks contribute immensely to the dimensions of the mise-en-scene.

Beside, Ace editor Dulal Datta did an exceptionally well rendition in terms of synchronizing multiple character-sequences in perfection without compromising on the pace of the movie.

Any write-up on Kanchenjungha would remain unfinished if it doesn’t mention the incorporation of ‘nature’ that accentuated the varied moods of the film — An overcast evening to suggest unfavorable circumstances, mist to render underlying tension and sunshine to portray agreeable settlement. Finally the mighty Kanchengha with all its splendor depict celebration of hope and aspiration.

However, Ray has managed to remain an aloof and neutral presenter through out the process of the film, which adds to the aesthetics of this cinematic masterpiece.

A classic not to miss.

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