Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.
Dammit, it’s another one of these films. Chip Lary warned me about Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) recently when I mentioned that there were still a few on the list that worried me. This wasn’t one of them, but it became one when he told me it was one of the ones I had left that had netted a 1-star review from him. In his words, it’s depressing for the sake of being depressing.
So let’s burn through the plot as quickly as possible. We spent most of our time with Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) who appears to be the only responsible member of her family. She has a sister named Gita (Gita Ghatak) who is allegedly studying something, as is Neeta. Her brother Mantu (Dwiju Bhawal) is also a student. The other brother is Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) who spends his day singing and begging for money and favors from everyone he can. Frustratingly, Shankar has some actual talent, but he’s enough of a mooch that no one (except for Neeta) seems to like him much. Oh, and for whatever reason, Neeta’s nickname is Khuki (pronounced “koo-KEE).
And then there are the parents. The father (Bijon Bhattacharya, I think) is kind of useless and eventually gets injured and can’t work, even though is work is tutoring kids. The mother (Gita Dey) manages to catapult herself into the upper ranks of evil film mothers and doesn’t have a lot of competition. Her entire existence seems to be predicated on worrying about herself and doing everything she can to destroy Neeta. However, she comes in second in the bitch department to Gita, who is pure, selfish evil.
That’s right—this is that kind of film. Neeta exists specifically as a Judas goat for the sins of the family and the world. Nothing good ever happens for Neeta. This is not just despite the fact that she sacrifices everything for the other members of her family, but strictly because she sacrifices everything she has for them.
Want examples? Neeta gives up school because the family is broke and owes money all over town. This doesn’t stop brother Shankar from taking money from her for his own pleasures. When Neeta brings home money, the mother from hell does nothing but complain about it despite the fact that none of the other three kids are doing much of anything. Ultimately, Neeta gives up on her relationship with her studious boyfriend Sanat (Niranjan Ray). She tells him that she can’t marry him until her father can work again, because without her, the family would fall completely apart. So what does Sanat do? He marries her sister. Don’t worry, folks; that’s not a spoiler. If you couldn’t figure out that there are sparks between Gita and Sanat from the first time he walks on screen, you aren’t smart enough to watch a subtitled film. Even “better,” it happens specifically because the mother knows that Neeta is the only one in the family worth anything, and marrying her off will doom the rest of them.
And so it goes. Knowing that the film is more or less a catalog of everything bad that can possibly happen to poor Neeta, does it come as a surprise that eventually she contracts tuberculosis? And that when she can no longer provide for her family, her family essentially abandons her? Yeah, I didn’t think so. You know what? Screw this—I’m spoiling the film The last half hour is spent watching Neeta wither away while everyone yells at her for getting sick, with only the suddenly-successful Shankar giving a shit about her. Eventually, despite her sickness, her father, deep in the throes of madness, kicks Neeta out in a downpour, because that’s great for people with tuberculosis.
I’m more than willing to watch a film in which bad things happen to good people. I even like films that have that as a basic premise. But a film like Meghe Dhaka Tara is painfully up front about the fact that it is going to beat us over the head with Neeta’s eternal suffering. It never hides anything, not so much warning us that bad things will happen, but pointing at them and letting us know what’s coming. This film is a misery soup, existing specifically so that we can (I guess?) get some sort of cathartic release from the continual suffering of poor Neeta at the hands of and in the service of her rotten family.
Are there bright spots? Sure—I actually dug the music. I have a fondness for droning music, and a great deal of Indian music has that droning quality to it thanks to the instruments used. So the sound track is very much a bonus here. But really, that’s pretty much it. This film does little more than put up an easy, defenseless target and then not merely knock it over, but destroy it so completely and painfully that there’s nothing left at the end.
In short, Chip was right—it’s depressing for the sake of being depressing. There’s no catharsis here, and there’s certainly no uplift at the end. It’s just brutal and ugly and stupid, just like most of the characters. I can’t say I hated this film, but I most certainly did not enjoy watching it, and will be certainly pleased to not have to watch it again.
Why to watch Meghe Dhaka Tara: You like droning music.
Why not to watch: Everyone sucks and sucks hard.