Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) Poster

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TOTAL cinema.
Alice Liddel15 March 2001
One charge laid against the revered director Satyajit Ray was that, much like Kurosawa in Japan, his films weren't national or native enough, that they gave a Westerner's view of India, one moulded in Western forms, rather than something 'authentically' Indian. Another, related charge, is that he betrayed his subject matter - poverty, nature, repression, obsession etc. - by the fussy perfectionism of his style; David Thomson tells the story of Francois Truffaut, himself survivor of an impoverished, disruptive background, walking out of the aristocratic Ray's 'Pather Panchali', 'wearied by so much perfection'.

I don't know what 'authentically Indian' means; I certainly don't know whether authenticity, so grimly linked to nationalism, is a desirable aim. I suppose an authentically Indian film would not be an exquisite miniature, but a huge, sprawling, unstable, visceral film, full of rupture, sensation, violence, exoticism, noise, incongruity; but these views may be as inauthentically Western as any other. That said, 'The Cloud-Capped Star' seems to me to be a truer film than 'Pather', not necessarily as a representation of Indian experience, but of human experience, and certainly as a cinema experience, of which it is rare and overwhelming.

The irony is that the film is as replete with Western influences as Ray's. Director Ritwik Ghatak was a left-winger, and his film is a thrilling assault on mind and body, using many of the methods developed by Western leftists. The film is unashamedly a melodrama - the harrowing tale of a beautiful, clever, promising young woman who is mentally and physically broken by the relentless fending of a family alternately selfish and feckless.

Like the traditional melodrama , its primary appeal is emotional, as the heroine is battered by an inexorable series of crises, usually signalled by percussive frenzy in the music; characterisation is monochrome, the saintly goodness of the heroine contrasitng with the mean self-interest or cowardice of the rest.

But this is melodrama filtered through those of Douglas Sirk, who took this despised form and gave it a critical dimension. Not only does Ghatak use Sirkian devices - frames within frames, intrusive decor, 'unrealistic' lighting - but he takes the idea of the hysterical body to its limits - just as a character who must repress her emotions betrays them in physical pressures, so the repressions of character and narrative are displaced onto the form of the film, which is full of violent jump cuts, extreme clashes of composition, space and editing, deliberate dis-integration of musical numbers, a radical use of lighting and sound (including bizarre sci-fi whinings), taken to an extreme unavailable to Sirk in Hollywood, giving the film a formal hysteria that is reminiscent of another Sirk admirer, Godard. Did Ghatak see the contemporary 'A Bout De souffle' as he made this film? (I can imagine a tyro cineaste getting the same life-changing excitement from 'Star' as I did from the Frenchman when I was young).

The use of looming close-ups and rushes of blitzkrieg montage recall Eisenstein. The story of a family and a society is reminiscent in its breadth of a Victorian novel, while the schematic, almost scientific analysis of a victim placed in a very carefully observed social context reminds me of Zola. The spiritual power of the heroine's decline is even more staggering than Bresson (although, it's always women, isn't it?).

And yet, for all these formal influences, there is a faith in character missing (deliberately) in these masters, a psychological acuity mirroring the political anger. And if the film is beautiful, it is never complacently so: it is a beauty repeatedly violated, creating a new, modern beauty. Why has this film never made Top Ten lists?
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A sprawling Bengali masterpiece
David1 March 2005
The visionary Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak peers into the future, and sees nothing but disintegration - succeeding at multiple levels, CLOUD-CAPPED STAR humanizes this bleak vision, by locating the drama in a Bengali family, but everything occurring is something of a howl of outrage at what had become of his divided homeland.

The central figure in this sprawling melodrama (with some coincidental resemblances to European new wave and neo-realism) is Nita, the eldest daughter in a once-middle class, intellectual family, driven by partition into refugee status in the slums of Calcutta. Varied family members react in different opportunistic ways to their reduced status, and their need to survive, all of which takes an extreme toll on Nita, who ultimately becomes the family's sole breadwinner. The performances throughout are excellent - Supriya Choudhury as Nita is riveting, and Niranjan Roy is particularly strong as Sanat.

Throughout, Ghatak boils human nature and the survival instinct down to the most ruthless basics: this is a compelling and visionary film, but there is virtually no room for lofty ideals or sentimental altruism in the world created here - mourn what one must, and do what one must do to survive. Sentiment and ideals are - in this film - luxuries, and from the cruelty of such a truism, Ghatak has created one of cinema's great, vital tragedies.

Ghatak claimed few Western cinematic influences - like Jean-Luc Godard in France and Nagisa Oshima in Japan, his primary concerns were historical and political, and also technical - how to alter cinema to express those concerns in accessible language? For Ghatak the solution was found in using outdoor locations, natural sound, idiosyncratic editing, and a minimum of the flash seen in Bollywood or Hollywood - CLOUD-CAPPED STAR is bleak, absolutely gripping, tragic and infuriating. As drama, it would definitely rank as one of the more obscure global masterpieces out there (there has yet to be an official US release on VHS or DVD), rarely seen or commented upon. This is highly unfortunate - as a film of moral/social outrage, this rivals Bresson; its' overall feel for the everyday reminds one of Italian neo-realism; it's willingness to experiment boldly evokes Godard or Oshima; in it's concerns with the status of women (another of the many themes explored here), it evokes Naruse, Sirk or Mizoguchi.

Ghatak's own biography is one of great tragedy; one could possibly read the discretely enraged hopelessness of this film as an extension of his own, and see this as a drive that would have to produce at least one masterpiece (his later SUBARNA-REKHA is also very much worth a look), even as it brought him to a premature end. For all of its' bleakness, CLOUD-CAPPED STAR is absolutely compelling - any cinephile (or student of history) would do well to see it.
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Raw passion and compelling characters
Howard Schumann5 July 2004
The independence of India in August 1947 resulted in the partition of Bengal, a trauma etched in the minds of the people whose lives were changed forever. Nowhere is this upheaval better portrayed than in the films of Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak. An active Marxist who began his career in the Communist People's Theater, Ghatak's films never achieved widespread popularity but he is now considered to be one of the top Indian directors of the last half of the 20th century. His best known film, The Cloud-Capped Star, the first in a trilogy examining the economic effects of partition, is a powerful story about a young Indian women who sacrifices her education and marriage in order to hold her family together. Ghatak's inspiration for the character was a woman he saw at a bus stop whose beaten down appearance struck him as being typical of Bengali refugees.

Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) is the youngest daughter of a refugee family from East Pakistan who lives in a middle class home near Calcutta. Neeta is a college student whose brother Shankar (Anil Chaterjee) is a layabout, an aspiring singer who lives off the family while practicing his art and dreaming of a career on the concert stage. Neeta believes in her brother and loves him deeply but has to constantly fend off the complaints of both parents about his laziness. Neeta also has an attractive sister Gita (Gita Ghatak) and a brother Mantu (Dwiju Bhawal) who is also a promising student.

When her father (Bijon Battacharya) has a serious accident, Neeta is forced to give up her studies and find a job and Mantu gives up school to work in a factory. The father is dismayed by a world that no longer has a place for poetry or idealism and falls into a state of hopelessness. Neeta is a good-hearted young woman, but one who fails to consider her own needs and puts off plans for marriage with Sanat (Niranjan Ray), an intellectual studying for a Phd. Sanat, unwilling to wait for her, becomes infatuated with Neeta's sister Gita and they marry to Neeta's dismay. Even though Shankar eventually finds success in Bombay, Neeta's strain in having to hold the family together leads to serious illness and the family's burdens only increase.

The Cloud-Capped Star is an angry film and often bleak, but sudden bursts of sitar music and joyous singing by Shankar lighten the tone. Although the film can be overly melodramatic and unevenly acted, it contains an overriding humanism that is reminiscent of Satyajit Ray and the neo-realist films of the 40s and 50s. Ghatak's raw passion and compelling characters make it easy to overlook its flaws and the result is a tribute to the human spirit and a deeper understanding of the tragedy that partition brought to India.
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Meghe Dhaka Tara
Raj Doctor22 March 2008
This movie by Ritwik Ghatak is on the list of most of the Indian big times directors as one of the best movies of Indian cinema. The name of the movie means Cloud Capped Star – what a lovely name.

The story is about a girl Nita (Supriya Choudhury) in a family who have migrated to India from Bangladesh, after the partition and staying in a small West Bengal town in poverty. Nita is the second child in the family of two boys, two girls and parents. After her father's (Bijon Bhattacharya) health detoriates she has to take the responsibility of being the bread winner – because she is educated. Her beloved elder brother Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) is an aspirational singer and does not want to work. Her younger brother Mantu (Dwiju Bhawal) leaves his studies and becomes a daily laborer. Nita's boy friend Sanat (Niranjan Roy) gets attracted to her sister Gita (Gita Ghatak) and marries her. Nita carrier the burden of all these silently, but it takes toll on her health and mind – who is finally sent to treatment in a remote hospital where Shankar goes to meet her in the end of the movie.

The movie though latent in high emotions is a superb story unfolding, with so much humanness that it touches your heart even today – through it (sometimes) melodramatic 1960 style.

This was the first movie of Ritwik Ghatak that I have seen till date, and I consider myself fortunate, because Ritwik was called by the Life Time Oscar winner Satyajit Ray as his inspiration and Satyajit Ray always considered Ritwik the best in India.

Ritwik presents the drama with such finness of light and darkness, using great visuals, sound and symbols to present a tender emotion. The foliage, the train, the mountains, the soul rendering vocals remain with you for long after the movie.

A must see for all the students of good cinema. A master piece indeed! (Stars 7.75 out of 10)
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The Cloud-Capped Star
Martin Teller6 January 2012
If Satyajit Ray is the virtuoso of Indian cinema, Ghatak is the maverick. His films aren't as polished or subtle as Ray's, but he takes bold chances. Most blatantly in the sound design, with startling (and often beautiful) use of music, ambient noise, reverb, and effects that are almost sci-fi. Perhaps only Lynch is as distinctive in the employment of audio techniques. Not all of Ghatak's gambles pay off. Take, for instance, his insistence on casting the goofy Bijon Bhattacharya in most of his films. Bhattacharya's performance here isn't quite as damaging as his turn in THE GOLDEN THREAD, but it's easily the weakest aspect of the film. However, the primary focus is on Nita (Supriya Choudhury), the girl whose family walks all over her, and resent her for it in the process. As her brother chides her: "You'll suffer. Those who suffer, suffer forever." The family is a microcosm of Ghatak's obsession, the damage caused by the Partition, commenting on those who exploit the weak, and those who let themselves be exploited. It's high melodrama, but like Sirk, is done so artfully and effectively that it's a wonder to behold, with breathtaking images, unforgettable moments, and that idiosyncratic audio field.
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Review #1
Sourish Chanda13 November 2010
If I have to chose one movie in my life then it would be this. Ultimate cinematic experience would be an under statement as it is more than that. I can think of Ritwik as the Indian answer to Stanley Kubrick. Meghey Dhaka Tara is like Clockwork Orange made by an equally eccentric and obscure genius, whose impact is appreciated much after his death. The contrast is, unlike Kubrick, very few people know about him as the rating shows here where as, it should have been in the cannon of every cinephile around the world. It is the responsibility of those few of us who have watched it, to spread it. I would like to spend some time here discussing what is so special about the movie.

First of all it is a movie that celebrates beauty. The beauty of nature as captured by some of the breath taking shots of trees that I have ever seen in a movie, the beauty in the affection between the brother and sister eating together side by side, or the face of Neeta gleaming under the sun when Sanat arrives or the beauty captured in Neeta's sister in front of the mirror. It also portrays the beauty in people's mind through many side characters like the compassion of the strict shop keeper. Yet, this beauty both in natural and in human spirit is in sharp contrast with the abject poverty and the bleak refugee colony. Nature plays an intricate role in many of his cinemas like Ajantrik and it often highlights the character and gives it also a context, done in the most effective and subtle way.

The second quality of this movie is the usage of classical music so deliberately for mood change. It reminds me of Kubrick. But here it is done in an much more open fashion. It creates a sense of happiness (read beauty) and often there is a sudden inflection or a discontinuity as if to remind the audience the harsh reality. (there is also a piece of great folk song as well).

The third quality of the movie is it's simplicity and honesty to the subject. Here the movie almost attained the quality of a real documentary. The effect of partition on the Bengali people have never been captured so authentically as been done here, the characters so identifiable, the story so representative and the settings so familiar.

The fourth and true to the identity of the genre it belongs to, this movie is a cinematographic excellence. If Kubrick is fascinated with back-motion and checkered pattern, then Ritwik has his play with frames and off center photography. Here each frame tells more than one story and a face is never complete with the surroundings and is part of it, not the center of it. Also there are other aspects of it like there are meaning to be understood by relating the context and what been showed, something Satyajit is very good at, Ritwik great at and been taken to extreme by Mrinal Sen.

The fifth and most touching part of it is the storyline. It is at the end of the day a very human movie. It talks about individual family and individuals in normal relationship in normal acts of life and in normal background. In that way it touches your heart seeing the struggle and the suffering. It does so without being too apparent or getting too sentimental.

The greatness of this movie lies in achieving all the above qualities in one work of art. It appeals to all the senses and linger long in your mind. One viewing is not enough to comprehend it fully like all great movies as there are many things in it that get revealed only after repeated viewing
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unbelievably great film......................i can't believe it
src_saurav2 August 2010
it's just that he made films for the love of it and never for anyone else that this somewhat forgotten legend later realised to be great made such a deep film.This film is not about cinematography unlike ray's but this is about the script.The scene where the father say's "you bore the burden and now you are the burden,you shall go' is a landmark in itself.Especially the believe in her somewhat useless brother who becomes a gr8singer in bollywood .This film has to be seen without any distractions.i give film -10 ,script -11, and cinematography -9 all out of 10.The background music is amazing ,it;s tearful.After ,watching i am almost compelled to take up a camera and shoot a film for myself.I don't care about this plastic world anymore.
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'Violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye -Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky..'
Debayudh Chatterjee10 September 2006
'Meghe dhaka tara' or the 'Cloud-clapped Star' is definitely one of the best films ever directed in Bengali,and it vividly portrays the directing skills of Ritwik Ghatak. The story revolves around a lower-middle class Bengali family, who lived in the refugee colonies situated in the outskirts of Kolkata. The father of the family was a English teacher and his eldest son 'Shankar'(Anil Chatterjee) was a promising young classical singer while the youngest son 'Montu' played football. Nita and Gita were two sisters, the former being somewhat responsible, caring, loving while the latter was simply a beauty conscious,lazy, insincere flirt. Owing to circumstances, Nita had to work as a private-tutor in order to feed her family as no one else had any urge, capacity or rather consciousness about their poverty. Another important character of the movie was Sanat, a talented Physics research fellow whom Nita sponsored for she had affections on him. According to the story Nita a working woman, couldn't spare time on him and Gita, her sister began having relations with him and eventually they married. Nita was heartbroken and neither Sankar nor their father supported their marriage. Sanat after his marriage didn't continue his research and found himself a job of high salary. Eventually Sankar established himself as a singer, Montu found a job in a factory, while Nita's health began deteriorating. It was found she was suffering from TB. She was sent to a sanatorium upon the mountains to recover and the film ends with Nita's death. One the last scenes perhaps the best of the film wonderfully shows Nita's love for life, her urge for struggle and her positive thinking. The film's one of the most impressing assets is the song, 'Je raate mor duar Guli' song beautifully by Debabrata Biswas. It was really suitable with the sad situation after Gita's marriage. The film over all portrays the life-struggle of a promising family with contemporary middle class livelihood. Actings of Anil Chatterjee and Supriya Devi is of high quality and the over all direction, screen-play, music equally good. The 'Lost Love' by William Wordsworth finds a perfect match in the movie.
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Flighty take on the mundane
Sid Debgupta25 December 2004
For someone who is not quite in the know, the subject matter of the story is to us who grew up in that time and place quite mundane. I know exactly the kind of girl Ghatak is talking about here, even a decade ago there were many of them I could see while commuting in Kolkata. Things have changed, though, and it is nice to have such a compelling piece of art to retain those memories.

But of course Ghatak is working on two planes in this movie. Ostensibly about the hapless girl driven by circumstance, the poor, gentle, tough, dreamy girl who is laid bare by the vicissitudes of existence may as well be that other great love of the director's life, mother Bengal.
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Indian middle class story
Magic Lamp5 January 2006
The poverty and tragedy shown in the movie are overwhelming. Callousness of family members add insult to the injury. Towards the end, Neeta's desire to continue living and craving for life is difficult to reconcile. I'm tempted to compare her desire to that of Chinese who was executed recently and he gleefully claimed that at least after death the officials will cease to exploit him further. That was a generation whose only recourse out of poverty was education. There were no other resources. The entire family labored to ensure the successful education of at least one offspring. In several ways, life in the animal kingdom is easier. New-boons have a higher success rate of maturing into adults and raising their own family. This movie offers a stark comparison to the unabashed consumerism depicted in Indian movies nowadays. I guess that's a good sign, the society has evolved above subsistence levels. Nowadays, family dreams are made of palatial houses, lavish weddings and multiple cars.
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