With King Ranjit visiting him, King Sohat sees an opportunity to kill his young cousin and take over his kingdom. One of Sohat's henchmen fells Ranjit with a poisoned arrow, making it look like a simple hunting accident. Ranjit is taken to the home a healer who has withdrawn from society and lives in a simple hut with his beautiful daughter Sunita. Ranjit survives and love blossoms between between him and Sunita and they are soon engaged. Sohat now sees an opportunity not only to get control of Ranjit's kingdom but also Sunita as his own bride. On eve of Ranjit wedding, Sohat challenges him to a game of dice. Ranjit heartily agrees not realizing Sohat is using crooked dice.Written by
Strong silent film made better by an engaging new score from Sawhney
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.
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