Not rated, mainly because it had a very quiet release and never really made the United States circuit. It has some very questionable content from time to time. While some of the violence looks a little silly and unchoreographed, there is some violence that is quite effective. Similarly, the movie teeters on sexual assault at time. There's death and suicide in the movie, so a bunch of themes that wouldn't exactly make it for all audiences.
DIRECTOR: Ritwik Ghatak
For most of this movie, I thought I was missing major cultural moments. I thought that some things were fundamentally Indian and that I might not ever understand them. I kind of hated myself for that. I blamed myself for being not worldly enough to get every beat. But then I Googled the plot of A River Called Titas and realized that most people got the same plot points that I did and nothing else. I'm not saying that it's my fault that some of the major plot points eluded me. But I also know that I'm not alone in not understanding how some elements came into play by the end of the movie. So I'm dumb, but so is everyone else.
It's frustrating when you don't really get everything. I'm also in the unique position of being vulnerable and having to share that I don't quite get everything in a movie. Most people can cover up their ignorance by just keeping quiet. Me? I write a blog about everything I watch. My stupidity is on parade. But I also think that some of this might come from A River Called Titas. The film, or more accurately, the novel, is autobiographical. I can't throw stones at the author saying that there are too many plots going on. But part of me wants to. It's mainly because the central plot is so important and it kind of gets diluted in a mess of other plots that may have no part in the main story. This is my ignorance talking, but it may come down to runtime. Indian films love breaking the two-hour mark by a lot. This is a two-hour-and-forty-minute movie. I have to say, it probably doesn't have to be two-hours-and-forty minutes. The story itself is a simple one. While I acknowledge that the characters probably need a long time dealing with abuse to become as hard edged as they are in the film, adding separate storylines only hurts the story of Basanti and Rajar Jhi.
It's unfathomable that this movie is completely autobiographical. The set of circumstances that get the ball rolling is something out of The Comedy of Errors...only far more tragic. Rajar Jhi and Kishore couldn't possibly run into the exact set of circumstances that would not allow them to recognize each other. Rajar Jhi knows absolutely nothing about her childhood. I would blame it on trauma because that would make a certain amount of sense. But she often writes off her lack of knowledge as only being exposed to situations for certain amounts of time. Maybe that's why I have such a hard time understanding elements of the story, the verisimilitude. I found myself constantly asking why people were acting and reacting the way they did. But part of that can be chalked up to cultural norms. While Rajar Jhi's reactions to things may have been absurd, the treatment by the townsfolk actually kind of scanned. It isn't something I've ever gone through. But one thing that should be made absolutely clear is that I am not an Indian woman in the caste system.
I often wonder what Ghatak's stance on things are. I mean, he's clearly anti-capitalist. I knew that he was a Communist from before the movie started from the Martin Scorsese introduction. It's why I think all of that violence over money happens in the story, despite the fact that it is only tangentially related to the main plot. But for a while, I think that he he has this wonderful feminist message about the role of the patriarchy. It seems to be about women turning against women and the men who thrive under a system that keeps that pattern going. After all, Basanti goes from being a saint-like character to being embittered and alone because of the physical conflict with her mother. It all builds up to this moment and it's great. But the early stuff with Rajar Jhi is actively confusing at times. When Kishore takes Rajar Jhi as his wife, the consummation of their marriage seems like torture for her. She's stuck under the boards of a boat, reproducing the imagery of a tomb. It seems like Kishore is the villain of the story. But when Rajar Jhi runs afoul of the pirates, Kishore becomes one of the most sympathetic characters of the movie. He is driven mad by the loss of his wife. Similarly, Rajar Jhi leads this hopeless existance, striving to find her lost love.
When did Rajar Jhi and Kishore fall in love? Now, let's go with the melodramatic route because the film is extremely melodramatic. Kishore's insanity can be written off as something that he would go through seeing death so personal. Rajar Jhi's melancholy also scans because she's alone with a child in a harsh world that treats her like a criminal. That's all pretty darned accurate. But what I don't understand is their solution to the problem. That scene consummating the marriage really reads like sexual assault. Maybe I'm misreading that sequence, but it reads like a kaleidoscopic nightmare where Kishore forces himself on his new bride. Why is she so desperate to love Kishore after that point? I get it, I'm not an Indian woman in an oppressive system. But it really seems that she loves him. Even when she doesn't recognize Kishore as the insane man, she seems to love the insane man. Where is this coming from? It's very confusing. Also, this world --as harsh as reality is --seems like the most demented world that could ever be. It is only when the insane man is subdued do they decide to kill him? What kind of odd logic is that?
The Shakespeare part of me liked the story of Rajar Jhi and Kishore. But because this movie is really five separate stories, I have to say that the rest of me likes the story of Basanti. Basanti is instantly likable. She's almost too perfect of a character. She plays by her own rules. She is physically intimidating. She's also struck by tragedy, which makes her resolve something earned as opposed to simply a character trait that we have to accept as an audience. When she takes in Ananta, there's an interesting dynamic between the two characters. Basanti is almost a cursed woman, a widow within days of the wedding. It seems like she is unable to move on from this position, despite being a veritable catch in this fishing village (no pun intended). Ananta is treated as a bit of a bastard by this village. People treat him as this pariah because of the loose footing that his mother had in this village. But the idea that these two heal each other's wounds is genuinely lovely. The movie never really goes as hokey as to have Ananta state that Basanti is a new mother. But the bond between those two characters is simply seen in their interactions.
That's probably what makes the rift between those two characters as brutal as it is. We understand that Basanti's mother is a toxic element in Basanti's life. As open-minded as Basanti is towards Indian culture, her mother is equally the way of the old world. She is concerned about status in the community and what people will think, coupled with dwindling finances in this poor fishing village. It's all very sad. But we see this moment where Basanti and her mother's rage come to a head and it is extremely effective. There's something almost Hitchcockian in the way that the scene is film, evoking ancient carnage and animosity between these two women. And while I would have thought that Basanti retreated into sadness and shame for her action, it becomes all that much more depressing knowing that Basanti lashes out with her shame. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch. But I can't imagine that a woman who has harbored such resentment for her mother chooses to become her mother after that poison becomes physically manifest.
But Basanti's story drags on for just a bit too long. The climax of that story is the driving away of Ananta. She has lost the only child that she has ever known. The introduction of new tortures almost hinders the punch that the separation costs. Here's where I'm going with this: each time a new tragedy hits Basanti, it acts as a distraction from the leaving of Ananta. That is what has broken her heart completely. When the men try to bring these women down financially, as per Ghatak's economic politics, it focuses their attention outwards rather than inwards. It doesn't give Basanti time to ruminate on what she has done to her child. And that's the major internal conflict for Basanti. She had the opportunity to lead a healthy-ish life with Ananta. They were both outsiders and they both loved each other in their own ways. But Ananta is gone from the film long enough that we see that they don't need each other. They are both sad and they'd be better people with each other. But they technically don't need each other. That's the miss for the movie with me.
Listen, I love sad endings. But I think the sadness is misplaced here. The movie ends with the world being a bad place. But the movie should be about that internal conflict. There's no real message with the ending it has right now. But again, I'm not understanding every real bit in the film. Instead, I have part of a story that I really like and an ending that waters that ending down. Part of that might be me, but I also don't think I'm alone on that thought process.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.