This is a very sensitive and well directed first film by James Ivory, made two years before his famous Shakespeare WALLAH (1965, see my review). Both films star Shashi Kapoor, who had already been acting for some time, as he was aged 25 by this time, though looked younger. The film is based upon a novel by Ivory's future long-term screen-writer collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and she also wrote the screenplay. The cinematographer is Subrata Mitra, the brilliant cinematographer of Satyajit Ray's APU trilogy and numerous others of Ray's best and most famous films, and who was to work with Ivory again on Shakespeare WALLAH. There is no doubt that part of the reason for Ivory's early success was having Mitra at his side, and that the powerful camera work, framing, and lighting were essential to the mood and conviction of the films. Ismail Merchant was the producer, and the music of Ali Akbar Khan and three subsidiary composers is very powerful and evocative of mood as well. The film is made entirely in English. It is an extremely sensitive portrayal of a young Indian couple, living a traditional life on a small income, who have had an arranged marriage and are trying to get along with one another. The film shows how they begin by bickering and mutual annoyance, tinged with dislike, and gradually grow to love one another. It has often been said that Indian couples tend to fall in love after rather than before marriage, and if there be any truth in that, this film shows how it can happen. The young wife is played by the actress Leela Naidu (1940-2009), a beautiful young woman who was at one time Miss India and who had a wonderful acting talent. It is a pity she made so few films. This exquisitely sensitive performance may be her finest lasting testament. Kapoor plays a struggling young teacher, and there are some amazingly comic and poignant scenes in the school where he teaches. The story involves 'the mother in law from hell' turning up to live with the young couple. Brilliantly played by Durga Khote, this self-absorbed, bullying, intolerable creature tries her best to ruin the marriage. For an insight into life in India at this time, and to a large extent today as well, this film is uniquely informative and should be seen by anyone interested in the subject. There are so many fascinating characters, who are so wonderfully portrayed, such as a swami who sits in a grove of trees just like Prince Siddhartha the Buddha once did, and is frequented by people seeking wisdom. There are some crazy, phoney and annoying Americans seeking 'enlightenment', and Ivory, who was himself an American, must have had fun ridiculing those of his compatriots in India who most irritated him. Really, this film is a must-see for anyone interested in these things, and it is a genuine work of art. It heralded what was to turn into the brilliant joint cinematic careers of James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Ismail Merchant, who together made many of the most memorable classic films in the entire history of world cinema, encompassing stories set in India, Britain, America, France, and Italy, and immortalizing many of the Henry James and E. M. Forster novels for the screen.
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