(director/writer: Ritwik Ghatak; screenwriter: based on the novel by Advaita Malo Barman; cinematographer: Baby Islam; editor: Basheer Hussain; music: Ustad Bahadur Khan; cast: Rosy Samad (Basanti), Rajar Jhi (Kabari Choudhury), Prabir Mitra (Kishore), Roushan Jamil(Mother), Sufia Rustam(Udaytara), Rani Sarkar (Mungli), Shafikul Islam(Ananta), Sirajul Islam (Magan Sardar); Runtime: 151; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Habibur Rahman Khan; BFI; 1973-India-in Bengali with English subtitles)

“Laments a dying culture.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

“A River Called Titas” is based on the autobiographical novel by Advaita Malla Barman and adapted by Indian director Ritwik Ghatak (“The Cloud-Capped Star”/”The Golden Thread”/”Ajantrik”). It’s the great East Bengali filmmaker’s penultimate film. It tells in documentary style of the hard life of a tiny fishing village, in the 1930s, in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), as it laments a dying culture. A non-professional cast is employed, and they bring a sense of realism.

It opens with a traditional folk singer (Dheeraj Uddin Fakir) serenading us about the powers of the Titas River in East Bengal. At a poor traditional fishing village near the Titas river, a girl named Basantiprepares with her strident mother for the Maghmandal ritual to celebrate the coming of winter and her passage to maturity as her two rival lover friends, Kishore and Subol, compete for her affection by building a leaf boat in her honor before joining an uncle to embark on their first extended fishing expedition to the village of Ujaninajar. However, fate intercedes when, years later, Kishore (Prabir Mitra), while staying at a distant village to fish, rescues a beautiful young woman named Rajar Jhi (Kabari Choudhury) during a tribal fight and ends up marrying her after persuaded by the tribal elder, who wants to forge closer economic and social ties between their communities. The union is short-lived because bandits board their boat en route home and Rajar Jhi escapes to be rescued by a nearby fishing village. Rajar remains there for ten years and has Kishore’s son Ananda. Meanwhile Kishore, the one chosen to marry Basanti (Rosy Samad), becomes so overcome with grief that he becomes a madman upon his return to his native village. Thereby an arranged marriage between Basanti and Subol is consummated but tragically ends in a fishing accident for the groom one-day after his marriage. 

The villagers’ pattern of poverty, despair, and tragedy keeps them from improving their lot in life. Meanwhile Rajar Jhi returns to Kishore’s village with her son and is befriended by the lonely and embittered star-crossed Basanti. Choosing to live with her madman husband, the innocents are both beaten to death by ignorant villagers. Basanti adopts the child, but pressures from her mother and relatives force her to kick Rajar Jhi’ child out, who flees to the city to survive. When the river dries up and money-lenders take advantage of the ignorant fishing community and cause the destruction of the village, only a starving Basanti  remains behind and dies with a smile on her face when she envisions a child running through the fields playing a whistle and realizes even if everything once valued is gone–life goes on.

It’s a passionate film made with great conviction, that features a marriage ceremony with the only sounds heard being the bride’s heavy breathing. The pic is filled with traditional music, tribal customs, an abduction, a murder, a suicide, an insanity and starvation. In the end, it signals the demise of a long-standing culture because of various reasons, such as the inability to change with the times, the fractured nature of the village and their inability to deal with outside forces like money-lender schemers. It’s a haunting and unforgettable film about the joys, anguish and rage of a community that was unable to survive. Ghatak clearly uses the story as a tragic analogy of what happened to the Bengali people as a result of the Partition of Bengal between British India and Pakistan in 1947.

REVIEWED ON 8/16/2011       GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/

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