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Distant Thunder (1973)
"Ashani Sanket" (original title)

 -  Drama  -  26 October 1975 (USA)
7.8
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 667 users  
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Gangacharan is the new Brahmin of a village, where he assumes various duties: teaching, organizing religious events, and trying to prevent epidemics. But in that year 1943, war is raging (... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Gangacharan Chakravarti (as Soumitra Chattopadhyay)
Bobita ...
Ananga, Gangacharan's wife (as Babita)
Sandhya Roy ...
Chutki
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Chitra Banerjee ...
Moti
Paritosh Banerjee
Sachin Chakraborty
Govinda Chakravarti ...
Dinabandhu
Shrikumar Dutta
Subal Dutta
Tapan Dutta
Anil Ganguly ...
Nibaran
Noni Ganguly ...
'Scarface' Jadu
Debatosh Ghosh ...
Adhar
Gobardhan Ghosh
Dalim Guha
Edit

Storyline

Gangacharan is the new Brahmin of a village, where he assumes various duties: teaching, organizing religious events, and trying to prevent epidemics. But in that year 1943, war is raging (as reminded by the planes occasionally heard flying over the countryside), and a major famine is under way. As food shortages reach catastrophic proportions, Gangacharan attempts to preserve his privileged situation, while his generous wife, Ananga, conversely tries to help and support the community. Written by Eduardo Casais <eduardo.casais@research.nokia.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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india | disaster

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Drama

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Release Date:

26 October 1975 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Distant Thunder  »

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User Reviews

The distant thunder of an unknown war, its tragic affect on rural India, and the development of a man's sense of his social responsibility
29 October 2001 | by (Durham, NC (USA)) – See all my reviews

"Ashani Sanket", or "Distant Thunder", is one of the first color films of Satyajit Ray (probably my favorite film maker). It is a story about a young Brahmin couple, Gangacharan Chakravarti (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) and his wife Ananga (played by the simply named Babita), who come to settle in a rural and largely illiterate peasant community in India's eastern province of Bengal. Gangacharan takes up teaching and the occasional priestly duties, disparaging the backwardness of the people he is serving.

There are several scenes of military aircraft flying in formation; the villagers wonder how they can fly and remark at their beauty. But the planes are flying because of their participation in WWII, and soon people start hearing that their (British) king is at war, and food shortages are causing their rice prices to increase from 6 (presumably rupees per kilogram?) to 8. The price skyrockets to 10, 11, 12, ... and gets to over 30.

The historical background is a seemingly forgotten Holocaust, the Great Bengal famine of 1943. The British callously disregarded and even facilitated the starvation deaths of 3-5 million people in rural Bengal. While ironically India was very significantly supporting the British war effort with over 3 million troops (after again being denied independence after its WWI support), Winston Churchill exported food from India that was desparately needed domestically, and even barred other countries who were ready to send aid to India from doing so. This after a series of famines under the British Raj, such as one in 1770 that decimated 1/3 of Bengal's population - 10 million people - and that was compounded by the greed of the East India Company.

As hunger affects all, including Ananga and Gangacharan, and some to the point of starvation, Gangacharan is shamed to realize that the relatively luxurious life they had led was at the expense of the landless peasants. "Ashani Sanket" is a portrayal of the horrors inflicted on rural Bengal by the wartime famine, and of Gangacharan's new questioning of caste restrictions and privileges, as well as the selfless sacrifices others less fortunate than he willingly make for him, as a hardly understood conflict goes on as distant thunder.

I would recommend the film as a poignant but by no means maudlin historical drama. Technically, I think the film would have been more powerful in black and white - but that could just be because it is difficult to watch a Ray film and not compare it to his famous Apu trilogy or "Home and the World", with the stark reality of lower middle class life that the films' medium displays. I finished watching the film minutes ago on video and leave with the impression that it's by no means my favorite Ray film, but, like everything by him I've seen, worth seeing.

--Dilip 10/28/2001


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