Ray’s first colour film and his first original script is a naturalist drama set in ‘real time’ (shot at a ratio of slightly over 1:2) over an afternoon in the tourist hill-station of Darjeeling (cf. a similar plot structure in Ray’s next original script, Nayak, 1966). Indranath Roy Choudhury (Biswas), whom Ray described as a ‘domineering British title-holding father’, heads a large upper-class family on the last day of their holiday in Darjeeling surrounded by snowcapped mountains and swirling mists. His long-suffering wife Labanya (Bannerjee) is relegated to a secondary role while he encourages a possible marriage between their youngest daughter Monisha (Roy) with the pompous, foreign-returned Engineer Pranab Bannerjee (Vishwanathan). The elder daughter Anima (Gupta) confronts her alcoholic husband Shankar (Sen), openly acknowledging her affair with another man. The philandering son Anil (A. Chatterjee) loses one girlfriend and acquires another. Brother-in-law Jagdish (Sanyal) is only interested in bird-watching. The lower-class Sibsankar Roy, Anil’s former tutor, tries to inveigle a job for his nephew Ashok (Mukherjee) from the patriarch, but when a job is offered the nephew turns it down, striking up a close friendship with Monisha instead, the latter having rejected her father’s choice for a husband. The most significant aspect of the film is not the much- touted non-judgemental humanism nor the ‘rounded’ characters in this ensemble piece, but the mobilisation of a suspense formula (patterned on the country house murder mystery) in which something ‘dramatic’ always seems about to happen but never does. In the end, the only ‘crime’ committed is the wealthy patriarch’s insistence on exerting a ‘traditional’ authority in a new, independent and industrial era. Although largely a naturalist drama, the casting of Biswas consciously mobilises a melodramatic stereotype, giving the film an iconic distance. The film is also remarkable for its use of pastel colours (unfortunately, the original negative has been damaged and existing prints do not always reproduce Ray’s and Mitra’s intended colour schemes) and the sound effect at the end when the humming of a Nepali boy suddenly expands to echo through the valleys dominated by the Kanchanjungha peak.
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