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Cloud Capped Star, The

Meghe Dhaka Tara

Director Ritwik Ghatak was a leftist and a political exile (from what is now Bangladesh) who made films which remain very modern in their bitter irony and their sense of the high human price of displacement and alienation. This movie, set among an educated, middle-class family of refugees struggling to survive in Calcutta, depicts the decline of the beautiful elder daughter, whose sad fate is determined in part by an insensitive society, but also by the selfishness of the family itself. As every other source of income vanishes, the daughter becomes the family’s sole means of financial support. The heroine’s predicament is made even worse when the more blatantly erotic younger sister tries to steal her fiance, a betrayal which is encouraged by the mother, who is terrified of being left alone in poverty. No film artist has ever excelled Ghatak (Chekhov is the closest parallel in literature) in evoking the supreme joylessness of a life that is all responsibility and no pleasure, in which the sufferer sacrifices everything for others without hope of reward or even gratitude. There is an extraordinary scene in which the heroine walks down the steps leading from the fiance’s apartment, realising that he has fallen in love with someone else, and each step she takes is accented by the cracking of a whip on the soundtrack, making her torment a painfully audible, even visceral, experience for the viewer. The Cloud-Capped Star is one of the unsung masterpieces of world cinema.

India, 1960.
English subtitles.
Black and white.
134 min.

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