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Komal Gandhar (1961)
one of the greatest films ever made
ritwik ghatak suffers outside india from not being satyajit ray. to most american and british audiences ray is alternative indian cinema just as kurosawa is alternative japanese cinema and the attention to the "universal" appeal of these auteurs' films obscures the pioneering work of many other great film-makers (as well, of course, much of their own work--the ray of "mahanagar" is not the ray of "pather panchali", for instance, or at least not in the same way).
similarly non-indian audiences are not always attuned to the role of music and songs in indian films. in ghatak's cinema (and "komal gandhar" in particular) music is used not just to advance the story-line as in say the great bombay films of guru dutt but formally as well. ghatak intentionally mixed folk and popular art forms in an attempt to create a new form of political expression and this is nowhere as effective as in the most personal of his early films, "komal gandhar" which draws upon his days in the IPTA-- a theater group that included composers such as salil chowdhury whose songs, "obak prithibi" among them, are featured prominently in this film. the impact of these songs is not translatable in subtitles and it is not surprising that non bengali/indian audiences might think of this as just another example of extraneous song and dances numbers inserted into an indian film.
it is a shame that ghatak's films are not widely available in india let alone in the the world outside. but those in the san francisco area should not miss the opportunity to view this and a number of ghatak's other masterpieces starting this very weekend (end of may, 2001).