The Name of a River
Reviewed by Wong Lung Hsiang
Bangladeshi Title: Ekti Nadir Naam
Director: Anup Singh
Cast: Shibu Prasad Mukhopadhyay, Shami Kaiser,Supriya Choudhury
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 90 min
I have seen 5 out of 8 Ritwik Ghatak's feature films, including The River Called Titash which this film directly refers to. Debut director Anup has shot this film as an introduction to Ritwik Ghatak, and as a sort of critique of the legendary director's works. Thus The Name of a River is a form of paying homage by imitating Ghatak's directing style, but omitting his plot-driven storyline. The Name of a River is heavily symbolic, and there are many intriguing messages encapsulated throughout the film. I could have been cynical about the premise of the film (how can one possibly make a film that serves as a critique of a master?) but in actual fact, The Name of a River offers much more than what I had originally anticipated.
The film is not a documentary, and is virtually plotless. The individual characters are just symbols or tools that are manipulated by Anup. He brings the characters back to locations featured in Ghatak's films in glossy colour (Ghatak's films were all shot in black & white) and he lets the characters deliver poetic and philosophical lines throughout their discussion of his life and works. He reflects on Ghatak's idealism and despair concerning the Bengalis, and Bengal's historical fate. He stages a romance-musical hybrid with Ghatak's touch, especially by using a young actress with a mystical smile that resembles Ghatak's actresses. In between, two ex-actresses of Ghatak, recollect their memories about working with the director. This is not shot as an interview, but as two good friends, accompanied by the young actress, casually chatting while walking through the wood, entering a Ghatak-ish cabin and cooking rice together. The film's visual compositions are first class. The transitions between scenes and segments are almost seamless, and the songs, especially the old man's ballad, can melt one's heart.
Since the opening of the Singapore International Film Festival 2003, this is the first time that I did not check my watch, because I was so engaged by the film that I did not want to break the magic. Oh, I tell a lie. I did check my watch once, when the first couple walked out at the 40-minute mark, shortly followed by about 20 others. To better appreciate this film, I would advise you to do some homework by watching some, if not all of Ghatak's films. In that way, you may form quite a different impression about this film.
I am tempted to place this film among my Top 10 films released in 2002, but this was quite a crowded year for good films ...