food in the arts



Prod:Balaka Movies (Sarbani Bhattacharya/)/ Scr/Dir: Satyajit Ray, Based on the novel: 'Asani Sanket' by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee/ Phot:Soumendu Roy/ 101 min/ Colour/ In Bengali with subtitles/ 1973/ India

The film is set in 1943-44, when famine struck Bengal during the British rule in India. It was a man made famine. As the British government cornered the civilian food supply for its armies, the people starved. The famine claimed the lives of five million people.

The story takes place in a small village where the famine affects the lives of the families in different ways.

Gangacharan, an educated Brahmin, has recently arrived to settle in the village with his wife. He decides to teach and conduct religious ceremonies in exchange for being supported by the villagers. The villagers readily agree. His wife, Ananga, is a sensuous woman. She is sensitive, giving, and devoted to her husband.

The distant World War II changes the village. Gangacharan is only little more informed than the villagers. He knows that Japan has taken over Singapore but he has no idea where it is. As a few aeroplanes disturb the peaceful sky, the word goes around that the war will result in a scarcity of rice. The price of rice soars as the traders hide their stocks to make huge profits.

To eat, the villagers are reduced to animal-like existence and forced to beg for food. Gangacharan, shrewd and stingy, has managed to keep himself supplied with food but it may not last long. Ananga offers to work for food but Gangacharan is shocked at the idea of her doing manual labour. Soon, he is forced to change his views and Ananga goes to work with other village women.

A man with a burnt face (scarface) offers a married village woman – Chutki – a bribe of rice to go with him. She refuses but later the hunger drives her to agree.

Ananga offers her gold bangle to Gangacharan to exchange it for rice. As he goes to a nearby village to in search of rice, she goes into the forest with Chutki and another woman to look for wild potatoes. Not used to manual labour, Ananga sees a flower and goes for it. The village women find some potatoes. A man tries to take Ananga; Chutki kills the man with the bar she used to dig out the potato.

But Chutki herself would rather live in dishonour than die of hunger. Once again, she joins the scarface despite her revulsion towards him.

An untouchable-caste woman dies of hunger; the first starvation death in the village. Gangacharan, breaking the taboo, picks up her hand take her pulse. He feels obliged to give her a proper cremation.

Even as we learn that Ananga is pregnant, we see the villagers leave in search of food in silhouettes. The screen is filled with a statement – "Over five million died of starvation and epidemics in Bengal in what has come to be known as the man-made famine of 1943."

"... full of feeling and astonishingly beautiful; the women are conceived as in a dream of the past - moving in their thin, clinging saris, they create sensuous waves of color in the steamy air." - Pauline Kael


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