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?