In the late 1940s, India had run into a problem with conflicting ideologies in its eastern province of Bengal. Hoping to rectify the situation, India decided to split the province, keeping West Bengal for its predominantly Hindu population, and giving the Muslim-oriented East Bengal to Pakistan, in a sub-country that would later become Bangladesh. This naturally created some problems with Hindu people living in East Bengal, and vice versa, and a bit of a refugee crisis began, as not everyone who had been displaced could afford or manage to make the move, and those that did quickly overcrowded the cities of West Bengal, particularly its capital of Calcutta. This refugee crisis in the capital is at the heart of Ritwik Ghatak’s film Meghe Dhaka Tara, or The Cloud-Capped Star, a film not unlike Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, both in culture and in content.
The plot, much like the Apu films, deals with a single individual in the context of them living with their family. Here, we focus on Neeta, a young woman who works all day to support her family, which includes her brother, who wants to be a singer and thus has no job, her sister, her domineering and frugal mother, and her somewhat meek father. She is helped along emotionally by her fiancé, Sanat, who is currently a student. This, however, bears more than a striking resemblance to the Apu trilogy, as tragedy after tragedy is thrown Neeta’s way, until she basically has nothing left to live for. I’m not quite sure why this type of film is so prevalent on the list, or why it is regarded as such a must see, since it basically sucks to watch this kind of film, where nothing good happens to the protagonist; it is nothing but a downer. Still, for what the film is worth, it is very well done and very well put together. The equipment seemed to be a slight better than the Apu films, but not to the extreme budget of Bharat Mata either; right down the middle of the road, that’s where this film was content to settle into, and it made the best of what it had, which is always a great thing in my eyes.
I explained the context of the film in depth at the beginning, as you really need it to enhance the film and bring out its latent qualities; otherwise, the film will seem too aimless, or pointless. The background this film is set in, while never explicitly laid out in the film, is nevertheless an important factor, and to watch the film without it is to risk simply not getting the film at all. That being said, in all honesty, I could find little with this one that really makes it a must see, and near everything I could cite has already been covered in other films, and this isn’t even the most technologically adept of them. Now, THAT being said, I still found this to be a pretty enjoyable picture, even as laden with tragedy as it was; it had a serene beauty to it, that I suspect is largely thanks to the culture it is enmeshed within, which I personally take to quite well. Others might not, though, and this will have very little to offer those people. But still, if you’re open to it, this is certainly worth a look; who knows, you might be surprised at what you find here.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10