Meghe Dhaka Tara
The year 1960 seems to be particularly heavy on depressive movies. I certainly feel I am caught up in a flood of them. I do not mind tragic stories, but this is starting to wear me out. I could really do with a bit of feel-good, but that will not be today, because today we are going to India again and India is, based on these old movies, just about the most depressive place in the world.
“Meghe Dhaka Tara” or “Cloud-Capped Star” is the story of a Bengal refugee family who probably used to be well off, but fled what is now Bangladesh and is now eking out a living in a refugee camp outside Calcutta (now Kolkata). It is not to be confused with the 2013 movie of the same name, which I found by mistake and got an hour into before I realized my error (it is also black and white and takes place around the same time). In any case in this family the father and the elder daughter Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) support the family, him by running a small school and her by tutoring children and students. Neeta is clearly gifted and was supposed to do a master degree, but she has become caught up in the job of supporting the family. As her father tends to waste away the money the family is completely dependent on Neeta’s income.
Neeta has a brother, Shankar (Anil Chatterjee), who dreams of singing. He does nothing all day but sing and beg money of Neeta for silly things like a shave. At least he is sympathetic if useless. Neeta’s sister Geeta (Gita Ghatak) is equally spoilt. She does nothing but complain about poverty and all the things she cannot get and of course beg money of Neeta. I believe there is another, younger brother as well who is studying. Their mother is one on those wailing mothers who does nothing but complain about everything while she toils for her useless children.
This is the story about Neeta. It starts bad and gets progressively worse. Her farther gets sick so she is now alone bringing home an income. She has a nice boyfriend, Sanat (Niranjan Ray), but when she insists that she cannot leave her household since they are all depending on her he gets frustrated and in steps Geeta and steals Sanat. Geeta does not mind leaving the household and Sanat promises to get decently wealthy. Did I mention that Geeta is a snake? Then the younger brother drops his studies and takes a job only to have a bad accident. Hospital treatment is not cheap and again it is Neeta who has to take care of it. Finally she contracts tuberculosis…
Basically the story is about Neeta’s sacrifice and suffering. When her family finally starts being grateful and a bit ashamed it is too late. Neeta’s life is washed out.
Such an uplifting story is exactly what you need on dark, winter nights…
Actually despite the obvious melodrama and Neeta’s intolerable family this is not a bad movie. It does have a progressive story and it is not as prone to stalling as other movies I have recently watched. Supriya Choudhury as Neeta is surprisingly good and her growing frustration and loss is felt more than seen as only good actors can do. This means that you cannot look away from the story and it moves surprisingly fast.
I am always struck by the poverty and grittiness of life in India in these old movies and this is no different. Neeta is of course a victim of that poverty, but more than that she is a victim of her own family. She willingly sacrifices herself for them and thereby she is also guilty in that exploitation. She could have objected and had a good education and a very good and dedicated husband, but she is caught up in her obligations and as a result she loses everything.
Add to that the irony that Shankar does become a famous and rich singer who buys the family a new house with two stories and that Sanat and Geeta gets beautiful children and prosper and Neeta can see that her sacrifice is thankless and did nothing for herself.
“Meghe Dhaka Tara” is a blow to the stomach, a movie intent on making you cry or get angry, but it is also a surprisingly well made movie. I am just not sure I can handle any more depressive movies right now.