There are other films with better soundtracks. Saptapadi only has two songs, one of which is kind of a mistep. There are certainly others with better dialogues exploring philosophical and social topics. Even just out of the director's other films, Barnali easily wins in this front. The style is inconsistent between the 3-ish acts. The beginning brings to mind Ray or Ghatak, the last 30 minutes, a wartime romance such as Hollywood turned out in spades in the 40's. The middle is something nearing a perfect balance between the two; that is, if you don't mind Shakespeare in the Park or whispers of impending doom. Also, disturbing content warning: Chhabi Biswas again terrifies with deeply misguided religious ultimatums. [I formally request that Ray's Devi be re-categorized as a horror film so that everyone knows to watch with a friend and not late at night alone, thanks.]
|My smile is SO bigger than yours...|
|Terrifying Chhabi Biswas. Don't let him in, honey, don't!|
*Slight spoilers ahead*
One member of the couple converts to the other's religion, and the other member turns out to be less different in "race" than it may have appeared. The bridge between them is built through a natural weakening or merging of the qualities that had once differentiated them and a magical letter resolving all misunderstandings. These denouement lines are heavily drawn, but the picture is still an encouraging one. "People are not all that different," the film seems to say. "It is only their worlds that keep them apart."
There's something about Ray's films that makes matinee idols feel like the everyday Joes you see on the commuter rail. OK, Nayak is literally about just that, but you know what I mean. Ray exercises a formidable democratizing force in his films. Big stars instantly transform from gods to men. For his camera does not worship, but reflect. Perhaps because of this, neither Soumitra or Uttam's first appearances on my radar (both in Ray films) convinced me of their individual worth. Ray's story was all that mattered. And when all must be sacrificed for the sake of the story, sometimes (most of the time maybe?) an actor's charisma is the first to go.
And this is exactly why you can't just watch art cinema, or serious cinema of Bengal. 'Cause then you'd seriously be missing out on a treasure: Uttam Kumar. It's clear from my brief wanderings in silver-screen Kolkata that Uttam's best avatar didn't quite make it much past Nayak. Even in the latter, his perfection is waning. But in Saptapadi? He practically eclipses everyone else. Even Suchitra (whom I like without reservations) struggles to out-sparkle him, an attempt that is not aided by the shaky writing for her character. There are a lot of great things about him that I can't put into words yet, but I am impressed by how he is able to be completely present in a scene with his lead actress and tease out the humor or the pathos in the tiniest of interactions. And because he's tuned into the scene, he doesn't repeat the flashes of charm or engaging mannerisms in the same order. Also, he knows how to wait for the right moment to reveal said charm. Timing, ladies and gentleman. The man had it in spades. Though you may [and probably will point out] that he is the most revered actor of Bengali cinema for a reason, I will counter with the point that there are many *cough* MGR *cough* other regional superstars of the period that I do not "get" in the slightest.
Obviously, I'm still hyperventilating about this film. I'm sure everyone who has seen it is going to roll their eyes and say, "Of course you liked it. It's drama, melodrama, melody ... it's Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen at the pinnacle of their onscreen-partnership. It's got an inter-cultural relationship, a college-storyline, a motorcycle song, and hot doctors. And Anglo-Indians and Shakespeare and swing-dancing." Well, I did like it, OK? You don't have to be so smug about it, all you hypothetical readers. Gosh.