(aka 'Meghe Dhaka Tara" or "The Cloud-capped Star")

directed by Ritwik Ghatak
India 1960

Ritwak Ghatak is generally regarded as one of the big three of the Indian New Wave (and Indian cinema at large), along with Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, the latter whom is he’s perhaps closest aligned with given shared political leanings, an artful talent for incisive social commentary, and most of all, for auteurist experimentality. With The Cloud-Capped Star (1960), Ghatak took the melodrama genre along with its coherent, causally driven plot structures and relegated it as the backdrop of something much further removed from the conventional. Throughout, the personal is harmonized with the socio-historical condition, and this duality is a key component of the film’s accomplishments.

 

Situated in Calcutta, a straight-forward plot presents Neeta as a middle-class daughter encumbered by increasing demands to support her self-centered family members. She augments the income gained by her elderly father, while she moves toward the final year of her education. Her struggles are made bearable by hope, primarily founded on two loved ones—her brother Shankar, who admittedly takes advantage while waiting for his singing career to blossom, and her fiancÚ, Sanat, who pursues his Ph.D. as part of a promising future.

 

While there is immediacy in an unfolding plot of multi-dimensional characters, the story is as much elsewhere, in an allegory of post-partition India. Ghatak manages to take the “plastic material” of objects and people and charge them relationally by creating forceful situational congruencies. In this way a letter may later become a cloth and then a letter again, a sister may become some other neighborhood girl, a picture, often glimpsed, becomes a nostalgic index of childhood within which the pictured hills are hope itself, and all the while, an occasional passing train gathers voice with its conspicuous and emblematic passings, first harmonizing with a brothers singing, and then rising shrilly to disrupt conversation. And when the train is not passing, there’s the evidence—tracks, stations, and faint traces of its sound in a carefully constructed and manipulated soundscape.

 

One last, spoiler-free, example may best exemplify the multi-level magic that Ghatak is able to muster.  Soon after introducing Neeta, and incidentally her sandal that’s in need of mending, there is a shot transition to her house before she’s arrived where her father is discussing some dark-skinned neighborhood girl, this girl will appear in passing much later and exchange brief words with Neeta, after which the camera stays with her, not Neeta for an intriguing, introspective interval, and then later on and in passing, this small girl gets mistaken by Sanat as his sister whom he asks for money before realizing his “error,” and then, finally, when he doesn’t mistake her, and she pauses, recognizing him, and adjusts her sandal strap that just came loose, and then walks awkwardly down the path that Neeta did at the film’s beginning. There are many examples of inversions and mappings that take place and lend a resonating quality to this remarkable film. The Cloud-Capped Star is a master work that invites subsequent viewings and vital contemplation.

Fred Patton for DVDBeaver

Latest Theatrical Release: Singapore 5 April 1997 (Singapore International Film Festival)

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DVD Review: BFI Video - Region 0 - NTSC

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Distribution BFI - Region 0 - NTSC
Runtime 2:01:20 
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 7.47 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio Bengali (Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono) 
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: BFI Publishing

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Derek Malcolm Introduction (7:26)
• Director Biography (3 static screens)
• 1 page liner notes by Derek Malcolm

DVD Release Date: October 7th, 2002

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 16

Comments:

A rare NTSC DVD from BFI !

Ghatak's films have been allowed to deteriorate but the master used here is in very good condition. Despite the slight damage that shows up more prominently in the last 10 minutes of the film (but is still negligible), this is a fine release from BFI. Contrast does fluctuate occasionally, but the image has some strikingly sharp moments. The subtitles ate wonderfully clear, unobtrusive and removable. Audio is a shade inconsistent, but still acceptable and the Derek Malcolm intro is good fodder for understanding this complex filmmaker and this astonishing film. Bravo to BFI for bringing this out, most likely knowing it would not be a blockbuster on the spreadsheets. This is a great film and they have treated it with respect and admiration. I give an enthusiastic thumbs up! out of   




 

NOTE:

This DVD has no proper pulldown but field averaging instead. This is a bad NTSC DVD mastering practice as it can smear motion.
This NTSC DVD was made from a 25fps PAL master. If it were released as PAL DVD the problem would go away. The noise reduction would be the same, though. A new transfer might improve the results.

Gary W. Tooze


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Distribution BFI - Region 0 - NTSC


 

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