Two wonderful and simple stories of rural Bengali life and love are recounted by Satyajit Ray in Mr Bongo’s DVD release the director’s 1961 compendium film. Noel Megahey reviews.
Two Daughters comes from the earliest part of Satyajit Ray’s career, a period that although marked by the director’s customary diversity of approach, remains consistent to his treatment of basic humanitarian themes that are inspired by the works of the Indian writer and poet Rabindranath Tagore. Consisting of two short films based on stories by Tagore (who Ray would also make a documentary about during this period) and contrasting rural Bengali life with the rich, big city life of Calcutta, the themes remain consistent with Ray’s masterful work on the earlier Apu Trilogy and with aspects elaborated on further in Abhijan (1962), The Big City (1963) and Charulata (1964).
The two stories that make up Two Daughters (the International version of the film is cut down from the longer Bengali version Three Daughters) however have a wonderful beauty in the simplicity of their approach, each of them using the arrival of an outsider from the city into a rural community as a direct means to explore the differences between modern and traditional lifestyles, between class, between city and country living, raising questions about the attitudes that determine the direction of life for many Bengali men and women. Being Ray however, the films have a deeper and wider application for any audience of any age.
In Post Master, Mr Nanda (Anil Chatterjee) arrives to take up a post in the rural community of Ulapur and finds living there very different from what he is accustomed to in Calcutta. He is given a young servant girl, Ratan (Chandana Banerjee), to help him out with his duties and cleaning, but also to help him to get to grips with a quite different pace of life, mediate with the strange characters he encounters and deal with the very real dangers of living in the region from the wildlife and malaria. In exchange, Nanda is happy to teach the young orphan girl how to read and write, and he shares his knowledge, learning and music with the locals in a cultural exchange.
The story is simplicity itself, seeming to touch on Ray’s interest on the variety of forms of learning and cultural exchange, taking in issues of family, friendship, education with a socially conscious eye towards equality, fairness and justice – but there is much more to the story than that. While they all have something to learn from each other, the Post Master and the locals are not on an equal footing. Ray finds simple and subtle ways to express these differences, most evidently through the Post Master’s ability to walk away when it suits him, and also in his teaching of simple and compound characters to Ratan. Ray’s ability to express complex connections, emotions and differences through “hardly audible notes” is similarly evident throughout Post Master.
Ray’s ability to express similar ideas through a variety of means and styles is evident in the second story Conclusion, which, characteristically for the director in a multi-strand piece, adopts a slightly more humorous tone to more or less deliver the same message. It features another young man, Amulya (Soumitra Chatterjee), who returns home from Calcutta after his exams for a two month stay with at his mother’s home before going back to read Law. His mother thinks it’s an opportune moment for him to marry and even has a suitable young woman lined up for him, but Amulya is not keen on the idea and, having more modern views on marriage, would prefer to marry a woman of his own choosing. To his mother’s horror, he shows interest in an untameable and semi-illiterate tomboy known as Puglee (Aparna Sen).
The contrasts are again made quite evident between those who have a choice over the direction of their lives and those who don’t – mainly poor people and women, for whom education isn’t deemed important. Equality is important however to Satyajit Ray, as are the basic principles of fairness, justice and education, and again although on the surface a simple film, the director shows through several examples including one where Puglee works carefully to transcribe words for a significant letter, how the enrichment of our lives with music, culture and learning can be beneficial for all. It’s through such clever devices and through Ray’s approach – here playful and mildly comic, but also tender and full of human qualities – that even this minor piece from the director resonates with warmth, humour and life in all its variety.
Two Daughters is released in the UK by Mr Bongo Films. The version of the film is the International cut, which is missing Monihara (The Lost Jewels), the middle film of the original Three Daughters. The film here is presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, and region-free.
The quality of many of Satyajit Ray DVD releases has depended on the availability or otherwise of good elements, and in most cases they seem to be hard to come by. That’s unfortunately true also of Mr Bongo’s release of Two Daughters (and of The Goddess released alongside this). This 1.33:1 image is, curiously, anamorphically enhanced. It’s not stretched to fit the widescreen frame, but retains its original ratio and is boxed in with black borders to the left and right. In practice, this isn’t much of an issue for anyone with a widescreen TV, as it just forces the viewer to watch it in the correct aspect ratio. Whether it results in a loss of screen resolution is also negligible, as the elements are far from perfect. The print suffers from numerous small marks, dustspots and light scratches, but on the whole they are scarcely troublesome and have no impact on the viewing experience. Contrast is strong, but the blacks are solid and shadow detail is reasonably fine, if far from exceptional. There is nonetheless decent clarity to the image with adequate detail visible, and the stability is generally fine also. One or two frames only have some minor wobble or are missing in the splicing. Overall, it’s certainly an acceptable way of viewing the film if your expectations aren’t particularly high.
There are a few clicks and pops in the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track and some low crackle resulting in a slightly muffled soundtrack, but overall, it’s not that bad either.
English subtitles are included and are fixed on the original print. They have a transparent border, so are at least clearly readable at all times.
There are no extra features on the disc.
There is a slight difference of tone between the two stories that make up Two Daughters, but the theme remains consistent, the director trying to find a variety of ways to approach certain humanitarian themes. Realising that there are many facets to life, to Bengali culture and universally to the nature of people, it’s an approach that can be seen throughout Ray’s work, the director adopting a multiplicity of disciplines (film, writing, music composition) and working in a variety of styles and genres to create a more rounded view of his world and the complex links that lie between people. Those ideas are expressed in their utmost simplicity and infinite complexity in these two beautiful stories that make up Two Daughters. Sadly, with only the International version of the film being made available here, we don’t have the extra story that makes up the original Three Daughters, the quality of the print used for this release leaves something to be desired, and the producers have even got the director’s name wrong on the disc cover, but it is wonderful that these films are being made available at all.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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