Golden River (Subarnarekha)

Golden River

Sing the glory of the Indian nation.

So there’s this Indian film, about refugees of the India-Bengal partition trying to survive in the post-partition world, that focuses on a protagonist and their family, how they live together, and most importantly, how they each deal with the tragedy that seems ever-flowing into their lives, particularly the protagonist. Can you guess the film I’m talking about? Did you guess The Cloud-Capped Star, a film by Ritwik Ghatak, that pretty much fits that description exactly? Well, you’re wrong; the film in question is Subarnarekha, or The Golden River (sometimes The Golden Thread), also directed by Ritwik Ghatak, and which also fits that description exactly. To be fair, it was an easy mistake to make; the two films are so perfectly identical that to see one is essentially to see the other. The only difference is the characters involved in the plot, and I guess technically the plot, but if you remove the specifics (like I did in the opening above), even they are virtually the same.

The plot of this one focuses on Ishwar, a young man who is uprooted by the partition conflict into West Bengal along with his very young sister Sita, and who tries to start a new life amid the conflicts of ideology and the caste system. Also along for the ride is Abhiram, the young son of a mother we see get abducted in the first ten minutes or so, and who Ishwar takes in until they can find her. The three grow older, Sita and Abhiram fall in love, and then the sadness starts, which just like The Cloud-Capped Star, is pretty unrelenting. Once again, I was reminded of the Apu films (perhaps more so, because the print I saw of this one was rather degraded), in this one’s stark washed-out black-and-white cinematography (which, in the print I saw, made the white subtitles rather hard to read) and its propensity to throw tragic event after tragic event at the protagonists until they’re all dead or wish they were. Seriously, it seems the only conflict filmmakers of this culture seem to understand and put in their films is nothing but sheer tragedy, but with a very very slight high note at the end of the film so things don’t look quite as bleak for the future (and, I assume, so the audience doesn’t go home and kill themselves). Regardless, everything I could say about this one I said in my review of Ghatak’s other work, so in a rare instance of self-promotion, go read that one after you get done with this one if you’re really curious as to how I found the film itself.

I get that the partition of India was a huge aspect of Ghatak’s life, and he wanted to make films that expressed that conflict that was so vital to the shaping of him as a man, but to make film after film that is virtually the same in every way is, to be unbelievably redundant, repetitive. They tried it just recently with the sequel to The Hangover, and the general response to that one showed just how transparent the filmmaker’s intentions were, and how they were received; it didn’t work. Now, once again, I’m not faulting Subarnarekha for being bad, because it’s not; it’s just so identical to Ghatak’s previous film I’ve seen (and both are part of a loose trilogy, which means a third film of Ghatak’s is probably just as samey as these two) that to have both on the list is just a waste of a good slot. I could be mean and give this a lower rating for being the same as Ghatak’s other work on the list, but it wouldn’t be fair to this one just because I saw it second, so I decided to give it the exact same rating I gave the other one. Really, I had no other option but to do so. Flip a coin as to whether to see this one or Meghe Dhaka Tara, but unless you’re a completionist, or you want more of the exact same, there’s no real reason to watch both of these.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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