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I suspect the number of (living) people who have seen this Indian
silent picture may have gone up a hundred-fold in the course of the
last few hours: London's Trafalgar Square was packed to capacity with
what we were told was a 10,000-strong crowd, all present to see a free
open-air screening accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra in the
premiere of Nitin Sawhney's new score for the film. The turn-out was
nothing short of incredible for any silent film, let alone for such an
obscurity, and the event was clearly a wild success.
As for the film itself, it's a highly-coloured epic based on a classic Indian tale, and reminiscent of the works of the brothers Grimm or the stories of Scherezade. There is trickery and romance, rival princes, a wise hermit, a beautiful daughter unfamiliar with the outside world, palaces and jewels, henchmen and loyal followers, kidnapping, disguises and an army on the march. There is even the apocryphal cast of thousands -- with elephants! The new score is well done, and is in a sufficiently 'Western' style to be accessible to a European audience while containing an Indian flavour in the solo voices and instruments: the LSO performance was admirable, and was in fact the best live orchestral synchronisation I've yet heard. The actors are both good-looking (where appropriate) and talented, and there is some impressive wildlife footage at the beginning and sophisticated editing at the end.
What I didn't get, to be honest, was any sense of emotional depth: this is a simplistic moral or fairy-tale style story with a great deal of plot and little space for characterisation. It's all on the surface, and a very attractive surface it is too; but that's all there is. The film is entertaining and technically excellent, with lavish production values thrown into the bargain. It never got me involved on any more intense level, though.
Kings Ranjit and Sohan may well be cousins who share a love of gambling
but, unbeknownst to Ranjit, Sohan plots to kill him and make his
kingdom his own. Sohan's plot fails though and Ranjit is only wounded
during his hunting "accident" and is saved by a local healer. While
staying in this village, Ranjit meets the beautiful Sunita and decides
to make her his wife. Her father refuses due to Ranjit's famed gambling
habit but when Sohan gets wind of the lovers' planned elopement, he
comes up with another evil plot.
Unlike the consistently thorough IMDb reviewer "Igenlode Wordsmith", I was not fortunate enough to see the BFI dust this film off in Trafalgar Square with a live orchestra earlier this year. Instead I had to catch it on channel 4 (screened at an absurdly late hour) but the reason for the showing was the same the re-scoring of the original film by composer Nitin Sawhney. I don't mean to ignore this aspect of the film but I also don't want to fixate on it and ignore the film as a whole. Before watching it, it is important to accept that this is a silent film from India almost eighty years old, and perhaps put aside your modern eyes to some degree complaining about a lack of dialogue may say more about the reviewer than the film! However you should expect the standards of the silent era and of a film this age and not be complaining because the film is actually an impressive piece of silent cinema. The story is a strong story of love, betrayal and murder. When you can describe characters as "evil king" and "bad king" you won't be surprised to learn that this is not the most subtle of character films but this approach suits the medium as one does need to overstate things when doing it without the benefit of sound. I was held by it for the 80-odd minute running time itself an impressive fact considering it was made in the twenties.
Continuing the theme of scale, IMDb's trivia footnote tells me this film had 10,000 extras, 1000 horses and 50 elephants I wouldn't have guessed those figures but there is no doubt that the film is impressive in regards the scale of the production. The sets and shots are impressive in their sheer size; this is not a film shot on cheap sets but one that wears the majesty of its characters in all the detail. Osten directs very well, managing these shots but also bringing off intimate character moments as well as some technically clever stuff as well (the reflection in the water shot was my favourite). He also brings the best out of his cast although again you need to appreciate that this is a silent film and that the acting style demanded is different. Roy is the hero of the piece and he performs this task well, even if he is a tad dull with it. Likewise Devi makes for a very attractive heroine who works her chemistry with the hero as well as she does her lack of chemistry with the villain, however it is Rai's film to be had. He play the villain and he gets to do so with a wonderfully melodramatic performance that plays up so the audience can see he is being sneaky, plotting etc. In a modern film we would call him cheesy but here it is just what was required and his performance is a delight, adding energy to the film.
Finally, given that it is the reason for the recent showing, it would be impolite not to mention Sawhney's score indeed it would be foolish because it is excellent. It manages to be modern and old fashioned at the same time but most importantly, it perfectly matches the tone of the film as it plays. This means that the drama is lifted, the humour is played out a little and the involvement and attitude of the audience is guided by the music and I cannot think of what more I would want from a score. Will I be putting it on my pod for casual listening? Well no, but within the film it is perfect and I am jealous of the people who saw it with London Symphony Orchestra in the open air.
Overall then a quite impressive silent film in terms of scale and delivery, the addition of a great new score only serves to make it better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I began watching "Throw of the Dice", I was immediately taken by
the wonderful quality of the print--something you don't usually see on
a film that is 81 years-old! Clearly, the recent restoration was a
smashing success--as was the nice musical score. As a result, the film
is well worth seeing--though I must admit that the story did seem to
have some problems as it was a bit silly and hard to believe. After
all, who is THAT stupid?! The story is about two cousins--each who is a
king in an Indian kingdom. One is evil but hides it very well--and he
intends to destroy his cousin and take his kingdom. First, an arrow is
deliberately shot into the unsuspecting king during a hunting trip, but
he manages to survive--and fall in love with the local doctor's
daughter. Next, the doctor is murdered and the good king is
framed...but that plot, too, in undone when the man hired to do the
killing admits his deed as he himself dies. So, the wicked king decides
to cheat the cousin out of his kingdom as well as his new fiancé
through the use of loaded dice. How all this is resolved is for you to
see when you watch the film.
As for the third plot to steal the kingdom, it's all very difficult to believe--especially that anyone would be stupid enough to fall for the evil king's plan to get his cousin to gamble away his kingdom. It all has a mythical quality about it and I assume this is probably taken from some ancient Indian folk tale. But, despite this being the weak point in the film, the rest of the movie is so lovely that I think the plot can be overlooked a bit. The film has wonderful cinematography, costumes, composition and beauty--it really is a work of art...and a work of art any silent film buff needs to see.
Re-titled a "Throw of the Dice" (and appropriately subtitled "A Romance
of India") for American consumption, this late-term silent film was
doomed to failure as it did not feature Greta Garbo or Charlie Chaplin
in the non-speaking roles. But, its dreamy production values and
international flavor played well in theaters not equipped for sound,
and audiences in India were understandably receptive. The story begins
in the Indian jungle, where pretty Seta Devi (as Sunita) has been
secreted by a hermitic father.
You will immediately see that hiding the fetchingly-attired Ms. Devi from society isn't going to last because the area also serves as tiger hunting grounds for two ruling cousins - "Good King" Charu Roy (as Ranjit) and "Bad King" Himansu Rai (as Sohat).
In the opening hunt, the latter shoots the former "accidentally on purpose" with an arrow. The former unexpectedly recovers, due to the tender loving care provided by Devi. So, if he is to steal nubile young woman from Mr. Roy, Mr. Rai must take more drastic measures, which he does. The cousins' mutual affection for gambling advances the plot to predictable results.
Irony exists in the line, "I know from your horoscope that gambling will bring you unhappiness." The film's main strengths are its beautiful locations, sets, and costumes. All of this will probably bore you, if you're not familiar with silent films.
***** Prapancha Pash (8/16/29) Franz Osten ~ Seta Devi, Charu Roy, Himansu Rai, Modhu Bose
Prapancha Pash (Throw of the Dice) (1929)
** (out of 4)
Royal cousins King Sohat (Himansu Rai) and King Ranjit (Charu Roy) share a love of gambling but soon the two fall in love with the same woman (Seeta Devi) and eventually place a bet, which will determine which one she goes with. This British/Indian/German production has some terrific things in it but in the end the story and characters just left me way too cold to fully enjoy the picture. I'll start with the positive things and you have to mention the downright beautiful cinematography. I was really shocked to see how marvelous this film looked as it appears each shot took hours to make sure everything was correct so that they could get all the details on the frame. Another major plus is the wildlife scenes at the start of the movie as we get to see various creatures in their habitat. The costume design is also marvelous and it really makes you seem as if you're right in India during the particular time that this film takes place. Yet another major plus are the locations. You can't help but look at this film with your eyes wide open as the locations just jump off the screen and that beautiful black and white print is really, really sharp. Every single frame of this film is beautiful to look at but sadly the story is really lacking. The basic plot has one of the cousins being an evil, no good SOB but you have to wonder how so many people could be stupid to what he's doing. I could understand one, two or maybe even three people falling for this bad idea of his but for everyone to do so? Another problem I had is that I didn't care for either cousin so it was hard to root against the bad one and cheer for the good one. I also didn't care too much for the woman they were in love with so that was yet another problem. I must admit that I didn't care for anything in this film story wise and I thought it really dragged down everything else that the film has going for it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 1929 black-and-white film "Prapancha Pash" is probably India's most famous silent film. It is over 85 years old and actually a British/German/English co-production. The actors are all Indian, the director (Franz Osten) is German and the writers are a mix of everything. Language in here is British, at least in the version I watched. Luckily it is not Hindi, because that way it would have been really difficult to understand for me. And I may have missed crucial parts, which would have been a pity as this is a pretty decent watch from start to finish. Yes the characters are either evil or good and there are no real shades in-between them, but that is not a major problem. The story is really simple for the most part and this helps the film a lot. Envious relative of kind prince wants to commit a murder in order to get power (and later also get the girl). Beautiful woman and prince fall in love. This film is really easy to follow and I liked the writing and acting here. Seeta Devi is gorgeous. Shame she did not manage to get a career in sound film. One big downside here is that the film is in black-and-white. You don't see the colorful palaces and bright costumes of the protagonists, which is quite a shame. As for the sound, you may listen to a decent melody that was added later on or watch it in silent as it was originally done. Whatevery you choose, go watch it. I am generally not the biggest silent film fan, but this one was a positive surprise and it is a shame there aren't many more famous silent films from Indian. Thumbs up for "Prapancha Pash".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This Indian silent film featured in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I obviously wouldn't have known about it before reading the book, I watched it hoping it would deserve its place. Basically this is the story of two kings, the good King Sohan (Himansu Rai) and the evil King Ranjit (Charu Roy), who both share a passion for gambling, and are both vying for the affections of the same woman. Sohan and Ranjit are competing for the love of the beautiful Sunita (Seeta Devi), the daughter of Kanwa the Hermit (Sarada Gupta), the two decide to settle the fight and play a game of craps to determine who is the true love for Sunita, and who will marry her. The game is determined by a throw of dice, Sunita herself wishes to marry Ranjit, but he loses the game to the wicked Sohan, and as a forfeit Ranjit is forced to become his slave. However Sunita soon uncovers the truth of the crooked game that lost Ranjit his crown, and about Sohan's evil deeds, and it seems he has no chance of escaping punishment. In the end Sohan commits suicide, throwing himself off a cliff into the rapids below, and Ranjit and Sunita are reunited, sharing a passionate kiss and getting married. Also starring Modhu Bose as Kirkbar - King Sohat's Henchman, Tincory Chakrabarty as Kanzler Raghunath and Lala Bijoykishen as Raghunaths Sohn Beerbal. The rivalry between the two kings is interesting, the dice game is really a small factor, and the love story is fine, I found myself looking at the cool sights of India, with elephants and stuff, I admit it trailed in places, but it is a good example of early Bollywood, an alright silent epic. Worth watching!
Actors & Actresses from the silent movie era tend to overact by today's
standards but the acting in this sweet little movie is commendably
restrained especially for an "action/suspense type movie.
The story is of two Indian kings, both avid gamblers who both fall for the same woman played by a functionally beautiful Seeta Devi. One of the kings has been secretly plotting to assassinate the other and take over his kingdom but his first attempt only wounds him. He is nursed by health by Sunita (Devi) & her father who is a man of medicine who has previously left the kings court to live in the forest because he is put off by the gambling.
The entry of Sunita onto the scene escalates the stakes as the evil king uses various methods to eliminate the other & not only take his kingdom but take Sunita as well.
The story is nothing special but as I said before the acting is reserved for a silent picture. Devi in particular is able to convey her feelings with a simple look or facial expression, an excellent display of subtle acting far different from the usual histrionics that you'd usually see from actresses at this time.
Look for some excellent camera work at the beginning showing some of the local wildlife.
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