“The Broken Nest”, Stories by Rabindranath Tagore - Tani Basu (2015)

Rabindranath Tagore’s famous novella Nastanirh (The Broken Nest, 1901 [1])  was the basis for the 9th and 10th episodes of the recent anthology television series Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2015). This series was created by and under the general directorship of Anurag Basu, and these two episodes covering Tagore’s story were directed by Anurag Basu’s wife, Tani Basu

Tagore’s Nastanirh concerns what happens in an upper-class Bengali household when the neglected young wife of a workaholic newspaper editor develops an unsettlingly close relationship with her husband’s younger male cousin. Tagore’s subtle portrayal shows a cultured family trying to come to grips with a potentially disruptive situation.  A related aspect that has always fascinated Tagore followers is that this kind of familial situation seems to have mirrored Tagore’s own personal experiences.  When he was growing up, Rabindranath Tagore was friendly with his older brother Jyotirindranath’s young wife, Kadambari Devi.  Similar to the age distribution of the principal characters in Nastanirh, Rabindranath was twelve years younger than Jyotirindranath but almost the same age as his sister-in-law.  With more free time available to them, Rabindranath and Kadambari Devi spent a lot of time together and became close companions, with common interests in poetry and art. However, shortly after Rabindranath had an arranged marriage at the age of 23, Kadambari Devi committed suicide, and it has always been assumed that her close relationship with Rabindranath may have figured into this tragic event.  I will not comment further about this other than to suggest that the feelings evoked in Tagore’s Nastanirh were probably very close to his heart.

It is not surprising then that Tagore’s delicate story about this situation has been filmed on several earlier occasions – the most notable of these being Satyajit Ray’s masterful rendition, Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964).  All things considered, both Ray’s film and Tani Basu’s TV production are relatively faithful presentations of Tagore’s Nastanirh, and both are excellent.  But they differ somewhat with respect to what they emphasize, and so I will make some comparisons between the two productions in what follows.  In this connection I invite the reader to consult my review of Ray’s Charulata, which I will occasionally refer to below [2].

Note that there is an idiosyncratic aspect of the Stories by Rabindranath Tagore that must be brought to your attention in case you just want to see this story in the series.  The individual Tagore stories were written over a fifty-year period, but they are linked together in this series, which is set sometime in the 1930s, so that at the tail end of one story, there is a lead-in to the next story.  In many cases this lead-in material offers significant information for the succeeding story that should not be missed.  This happens to be the case with the story of The Broken Nest, where important lead-in material is provided in the last eight minutes of the preceding story, “Punishment”, Episode 8 of the series.

The story of The Broken Nest concerns only five characters:
  • Bhupati Babu (played by Kranti Prakash Jha) is a thirty-something upper-class Bengali and is the editor/publisher of a new progressive newspaper.  He is obsessively concerned about the success of his new newspaper, into which he has poured all the resources of his family estate.
     
  • Charulata (Amrita Puri) is Bhupati’s beautiful and culturally aspiring young wife.
     
  • Amol is Bhupati’s younger brother in this version of Tagore’s tale.  In Tagore’s original story and in Ray’s film, Amol was Bhupati’s cousin.  However, this distinction between brother and cousin seems not to be significant in these circumstances, since in accordance with Bengali family practice, cousins were often treated like brothers, and they called each other “brother”.  Amol is about a decade younger than Bhupati and comes to visit his “brother’s” household after finishing his undergraduate studies.
     
  • Umapada is Charulata’s older brother.  Although he is thus Bhupati’s brother-in-law, again family custom leads Bhupati and Umapada to call each other “brother”. 
     
  • Manda is Umapada’s young and relatively banal wife.
Because Bhupati is continually preoccupied with his work, Charulata is left unattended and is bored with her life.  In an effort to provide his wife with some companionship that might make things more interesting for her, he has invited his brother-in-law, Umapada, and his wife, Manda to come live with them at their family estate. 

At the outset of the story, shown in the last eight minutes of Episode 8 of this series, Charulata (aka Charu) is shown to be neglected and lonely in her sumptuous family estate.  Her husband Bhupati is busy at work all the time preparing for the inaugural issue of his new newspaper.  Although he has invited her brother Umapada and his wife Manda to come live with them, their presence hasn’t provided any stimulating company for Charu.  In hopes of finding something interesting to do with her time, Charu tells her husband that she wants to learn singing.

At the beginning of Episode 9, Amol comes to stay in the Babu household.  We immediately see the contrast between the two “brothers”, Amol and Bhupati.  While Bhupati is a gentle and thoughtful introvert, Amol is a loud and self-absorbed extrovert who wants to attract all attention to himself.  Though Amol is ostensibly engaged in the study of law, his real passion is for singing.  Upon seeing this, Bhupati asks Amol to teach singing to Charu.  Soon Charu and the viewer are regaled by songs sung by Amol.  And their growing affinity gradually becomes evident.  When Bhupati receives an attractive marriage offer for Amol (from a good family with a generous offer to finance his future legal studies), Amol flatly rejects the offer.  He can’t bear to abandon the carefree life he is now leading.

Meanwhile we see that Bhupati has engaged “brother” Umapada to look after the business side of his fledgling newspaper so that he can concentrate his time on editorial matters. 

Much of this 9th episode, though, is devoted to presenting Amol’s singing, and this lends a decidedly lyrical feeling to this first-half of the story.  This musical tone of the story is in fact a key feature of this telling of Tagore’s story.  Note that in Tagore’s original story, as well as in Ray’s film, The Lonely Wife, Amol and Charulata engage each other by composing and reciting poetry.  So there is a resulting contrast between the logical and analytical world of Bhupati’s prose and the more free-flowing and emotive poetic world of Amol and Charulata.  But it is still bounded by the limitations of text.   Here in The Broken Nest, by contrast, the distinction between Bhupati and Amol is more profound – it is that between the mechanical formulations of text and the visceral feelings of music.  And in my view that is a significant virtue and advantage of this work.  A further advantage here is the way these songs are presented visually, with evocative and well-edited closeups giving expressive color to the songs that are sung.

As their singing sessions continue, Charu unconsciously becomes more and more attracted to the brash and handsome Amol.  One day she hears Amol singing one of their songs on national radio.  For Amol, this is a proud moment, but Charu takes offence that a song she had taken to be composed for her, alone, had been made into a public commodity.  So she goes ahead and composes her own song.  But when she sits down at the piano and plays it for Bhupati, she is perturbed to see that her over-worked husband has fallen asleep.

In the 10th episode the ramifications of the previous developments come to a head.  First Charu sings her own composition to Amol, and he is impressed with and charmed by her own musical abilities.  But then a disaster strikes the household.  They learn that Umapada has all along failed to pay Bhupati’s business creditors and has now made off with all of the money that Bhupati had entrusted to him.  Bhupati is financially ruined, and his newspaper must be shut down.  All his hard work has come to nothing. However, Bhupati confides to Amol that the biggest hurt came from being betrayed by someone close to him and whom he had trusted. But he says he can keep going as long as he has Charu by his side.  Amol listens to this lament and realizes that his growing relationship with Charu represents a potentially even greater betrayal of Bhupati’s trust.

So when Bhupati receives another marriage proposal for Amol, the now silently self-reproving young man quickly accepts the offer.  Charu is immediately distraught at the prospect of losing her cherished friend.  When they have a chance to be alone, she begs Amol to decline the proposal, and she tearfully embraces him in desperation.  But Amol is adamant.  Honor ultimately triumphs over love in this situation, and he departs.

The scene now shifts to two months later, and Bhupati has been hesitantly sharing with Charu his nascent attempts at writing poetry.  But Charu is still obsessed with the absent Amol and is trying to exchange telegrams with him.  In the closing scene, when Bhupati finally realizes that Charu has a hitherto concealed passion for Amol, he breaks down in tears and disconsolately burns all the poetry he had written for Charu.


There is an underlying philosophical theme of this story that was well articulated in Soren Kierkegaard’s philosophical treatise Either/Or (1843) concerning the tension between the ethical and the aesthetic modes of human existence. Accordingly, the uppermost levels of the aesthetic side are driven by love and aesthetic appreciation, while the top levels of the ethical side are driven by humanistic principles governed by human reason.  In this regard the ethical  side in this story is represented by Bhupati, and the aesthetic side is represented by Amol and Charulata.  As I mentioned in my review of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata,
“. . . Bhupati is a decent, ethical man.  He tries to follow the rules.  He means well, and he strives for a world in which justice prevails and the common good thrives.  His concerns center around how practically to build a world that achieves these aims.  By deliberately and rigorously following such a path, he believes that a progression towards a better world can be achieved.” [2]
whereas
“Though they would not deny Bhupati’s aims, Charulata and Amal seek something beyond Bhupati’s just world. This is a world where human creativity rises above the mechanics of ethical rules. The world they seek is a mystical union – one of love . . .” [2]
This tension between the aesthetic and ethical modes of existence is more clearly articulated and balanced in Ray’s Charulata than it is in Basu’s The Broken Nest.  Here in The Broken Nest the emphasis is very much tilted toward the aesthetic side.  Indeed in this version of Tagore’s story, Bhupati’s Brahmo-Samaj-inspired political progressivism (i.e. his external ethical concern) is downplayed, and he is shown to have his own aesthetic sensibilities (his poetry), too.  So the ethical vs. aesthetic divide is less clear-cut in this treatment as compared to Ray’s Charulata.  Thus with respect to this underlying philosophical theme of the aesthetic vs. the ethical, I would say that Ray’s film is the more successful presentation.

Nevertheless, Basu’s The Broken Nest has its undeniable virtues.  The episodes encompassing this story are permeated with a melodic quality that enhances the feelings about what this tale is about.  Besides the many songs that are explicitly sung, the background music is, despite its often intrusive character, a further instrument supporting this story’s overall musical temper.
             
Note also that given the blurring of the aesthetic vs. the ethical opposition here in The Broken Nest, we might say that the duality under concern here is not so much the ethical vs. the aesthetic as it is the related pair of the textual vs. the musical.  Bhupati here in this presentation is a man of text.  He supervises rationally-based textual discourse for his newspaper; and when he is away from the paper, he writes poetry.  In contrast, Amol is a man of soulful music.  He  sings what is in his heart.  Moreover, in this version as compared to Ray’s film, the Bhupati character is more sympathetically portrayed, while the Amol character is more self-centered and egotistical – he is less Charu’s soul-mate here.  That slight shift in character portrayal in this version renders the musical/passion side of the presented duality more mindless and instinctive – which makes Charu’s ambivalent feelings more profound to her innermost being and therefore more tragic.

Overall and despite some occasional uneven elements, I think Basu’s The Broken Nest is an excellent work.  It is particularly buoyed by the well-crafted and lyrical songs that are presentedd, along with the moving performances by Kranti Prakash Jha (as Bhupati Babu) and Amrita Puri (Charulata).


Notes:
  1. Rabindranath Tagore, Broken Nest and Other Stories, (Sharmistha Mohanty, trans.), Westland Limited, (1901/2009).
  2. The Film Sufi, “‘Charulata’ - Satyajit Ray (1964)”, The Film Sufi, (30 November 2013).     

“Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God” - Satyajit Ray (1979)

Satyajit Ray’s third and last detective story film was Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God (aka Joi Baba Felunath, 1979).  Like he did with his earlier detective film The Golden Fortress (Sonar Kella, 1974), the multi-talented Ray based this film on one of his very own detective novels, Joi Baba Felunath (1975), featuring his usual hero, Feluda (Ray wrote 35 novels and stories starring this fictional character [1]).

In Ray’s Feluda stories, the protagonist Prodosh Chandra Mitra, who was known by his nickname Feluda, was usually accompanied by his two companions: his young cousin Topshe Mitra and Lalmohan Ganguly, who was a popular writer of adventure novels and who was conventionally referred to by his pen name, Jatayu.  Together, Topshe and Jatayu are Feluda’s assistant/sidekicks, much in the fashion of Dr. Watson’s relationship with Sherlock Holmes.  Indeed, Ray’s characterization of Feluda was inspired by his readings of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and in Ray’s stories Feluda often mentions that he is an admirer of Holmes [1].  Here in this film these three characters are portrayed by the same actors who appeared in these roles in The Golden Fortress:
  • Feluda is played by long-time Ray favorite Soumitra Chatterjee,
     
  • Jatayu, who adds a comic profile to the trio, is played by another Ray favorite, Santosh Dutta, and
     
  • Topshe is played by Siddartha Chatterjee.
The basic tenor of Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God is that of a family-oriented adventure/crime melodrama that would appeal to a wide range of ages and tastes.  There are moments of curiosity, comedy, and tension that are probably particularly appealing to a youthful audience.  In addition, the film’s focus on puja ceremonies in the holy city of Kashi (aka Varanasi or Benares) is a colorful setting that is likely to fascinate many viewers.  Ray presents the tale adroitly with his customarily skillful use of atmospheric compositions interspersed with well-edited dramatic closeups.  And of course Ray, besides providing the film’s story and screenplay, also composed the musical score for the film.

A major theme threaded throughout Joi Baba Felunath is truth-telling.  Most of the characters our three protagonists encounter in this story are involved in lying at various points along the way.  And that, of course, is what makes detective Feluda’s problem and task a challenge to unravel.

The story of Joi Baba Felunath is told over five phases or acts.

1.  A Ganesha Statue is Stolen
In the opening sequence, whose significance as a clue to the viewer will only be made clear  much later in the film, a young boy, Ruku, watches and listens to the idol-maker Sashi Babu tell him details about Hindu deities Durga and Ganesha, who are subjects of his work.  Ruku lives in a wealthy estate which is then visited by an abrupt and presumptuous businessman Maganlal Meghraj (played by Utpal Dutt).  Meghraj makes an offer to buy from Ruku’s father, Umanath Ghosal (Haradhan Bandopadhyay), a small (about three inches in length) gold and diamond-studded statue of Ganesha owned by the Ghosal family, and when Umanath refuses to sell the figure, Meghraj shows his anger. Their conversation is overheard from the corridor outside the room by a young man, Bikash (Biplab Chatterjee), who lives in the home.  Right away we can see that Meghraj is the villain of this piece, and the viewer might well wonder how much mystery will be involved in revealing the culprit of this tale.

That night someone sneaks into the Ghosal house and steals the Ganesha statue.  The next day Feluda, Topshe, and Jatayu are shown arriving in Kashi to see the city and observe the traditional puja rituals.  They check in to a hotel suite which they are to share with a muscular body-builder, Biswasree Gunomoy Bagchi (Moloy Roy).  Biswasree’s presence in this tale turns out to be just a colorful piece of dazzle that is likely to fascinate a youthful audience.

Then the Feluda trio head out to the ghats along the Ganges river, where they observe a visiting Hindu holy man, Machli Baba (Monu Mukherjee), who has attracted excitement from the local populace for his alleged saintly powers.  Among those ceremoniously coming to seek Machli Baba’s blessing is Maganlal Meghraj.  Then the Feluda trio are introduced to Umanath Ghosal, who tells Feluda about his stolen statue and seeks to engage the famous detective to help identify and snare the culprit.

2.  Visiting the Ghosal Estate
Feluda goes to visit the Ghosal estate, where he is given more information about the Ganesha theft.  There he talks to Ruku, Bikash, Umanath Ghosal, and Umanath’s elderly father, Ambika Ghosal (Bimal Chatterjee as), who is the head of Ghosal estate and therefore the real owner of the stolen Ganesha statue.  At this point and for various reasons, Feluda believes, correctly, that Ruku, Bikash, and Umanath are not telling him the entire truth about what happened.

3.  Visiting Maganlal Meghraj
Feluda and his two friends are now summoned to Maganlal Meghraj’s dark mansion, where the sinister Meghraj tells them that the debt-ridden Umanath Ghosal stole the statue, himself, and then sold it to him.  He offers a bribe to Feluda to drop his investigation.  When Feluda refuses to accept the bribe, Meghraj subjects Jatayu to a life-threatening horror as a target for his shaky knife-thrower.  Feluda and Topshe are powerless to defend their terrified friend, because they can see a gun pointed at them from the upstairs balcony.

Jatayu does survive the ordeal, and when they are finally out on the street, the humiliated Feluda vows to take his revenge on Meghraj.  Feluda also concludes that Meghraj probably lied about possessing the Ganesha statue.

4.  Out on the Streets and the Ghats
Continuing his investigations, Feluda now becomes suspicious of a clean-shaven young man he sees on the ghats who reminds him, perhaps because of a tattoo, of the bearded Machli Baba he had seen being worshiped earlier.  He follows the young man to his lodging and furtively confirms his earlier suspicions that Machli Baba is a fake by finding the phony saint’s false beard and dressing gown.  He also sees a locked chest that he suspects contains stolen goods – and perhaps even the Ganesha statue.

Meanwhile the idol-maker Sashi Babu discovers the Ganesha statue lying on the ground at the foot of his Durga idol.  But shortly thereafter, Feluda and his friends discover Sashi Babu murdered on the street.  Now, on the basis of this evidence and some other suspicions he arrived at along the way, Feluda conjectures that the boy Ruku had earlier hidden the stolen Ganesha figure by sticking it with chewing gum inside the lion’s mouth in Sashi Babu’s Durga idol.  We also learn that Ruku reported to Ambika Ghosal that he had overheard Maganlal Meghraj’s  original bribe offer to Umanath Ghosal. 

5.  The Capture
There are further complications, because we learn that Bikash, for a bribe from Meghraj, had intended to steal the little statue from Ambika Ghosal’s trunk, but found it missing when he surreptitiously went to get it.  He did wind up getting it from Shashi Babu and handing it over to Meghraj, together with the fateful information that Babu had had it.


This sets the stage for Feluda’s dramatic costumed ruse to capture Meghraj red-handed in the act of secretly passing on stolen goods to the fake holy man.  Afterwards Meghraj is given Feluda’s revenge treatment – he is subjected to the same kind of terrifying life-threatening target practice that Jatayu had faced, but this time involving a gun instead of knives.

And in the very end, although we more or less knew all along the main point that Maganlal Meghraj was the bad guy, there is a further twist that will intrigue the viewer.


Overall, Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God is a well-made concoction of family entertainment, but there is an element here that I find disappointing.  Ray’s presentation, indeed celebration, of vengeful payback at the end of the film is unworthy of his refined sensibilities.  And revenge is not a suitable message to light-heartedly present and endorse to a youthful audience.

With regard to my earlier mention that truth-telling and lying was a theme of the film, note that (at least) the following characters told lies or presented fabrications to the truth-seeking Feluda:
  • Maganlal Meghraj 
  • Ruku
  • Machli Baba
  • Bikash
  • Umanath Ghosal
  • Ambika Ghosal
See if you can spot their lies early on when you watch Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God.
★★

Notes:
  1.  “Feluda”, Wikipedia, (9 October 2018).   

“Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche” - Neten Chokling (2010)

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), one of the most revered Tibetan (Himalayan) Buddhist lamas of the 20th century, is the subject of the documentary film Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (2010).  The film is a professional and well-crafted biography of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who was a master of the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and an outstanding scholar, poet, and teacher.  He was, like the Dalai Lama, one of the few masters to be bestowed the honorific “His Holiness”, and he eventually rose to become the head of the Nyingma school, which is the oldest of the four main schools of Himalayan Buddhism [1].

One of the interesting features of this film is the degree to which Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist lamas and dedicated practitioners were key contributors to its production.  The film was directed and co-scripted by Neten Chokling, aka the Fourth Neten Chokling Rinpoche (note that ‘Rinpoche’ is an honorific in the Tibetan language and is not a surname).  Chokling is, besides being a filmmaker (cf. Milarepa, 2006), an important lama from Bhutan who was officially recognized at an early age as the reincarnation of an eminent earlier Buddhist lama [2,3,4].

Chokling’s filmmaking skills were honed by working with another lama/filmmaker, Khyentse Norbu (aka Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche), on the latter’s films The Cup (1999) and Travelers and Magicians (2003). In addition, one of Neten Chokling’s Buddhist teachers was Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche, who is another important Himalayan Buddhist lama and filmmaker (cf. his The Life of Milarepa [5]) and who happens to be (by religious certification that he is a reincarnation of an earlier family member) another major lama in the Neten Chokling Rinpoche family line.  Both Khyentse Norbu and Orgyen Tobgyal were disciples of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and they appear here in Brilliant Moon and reminisce about their beloved master’s unmatchable virtues.

One of Brilliant Moon’s cinematographers (along with Vivian Kurz) was Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman who after completing his Ph.D. in molecular genetics, converted to Himalayan Buddhism and adopted the life of a Buddhist monk, becoming a close student of  Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and an assistant to the Dalai Lama.  He has, nevertheless, continued his activities as  well-known writer, photographer, and filmmaker (in 1995 Ricard directed his own documentary about Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Journey to Enlightenment).  Moreover, as a result of a famous MRI brain-scan study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, he has since been accorded the popular designation as the “world’s happiest person” [6,7,8].

The film producer of Brilliant Moon was the lama Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, who is Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s grandson and who is now the abbot of the Shechen Monastery in Nepal, which is one of the six primary or "mother" monasteries of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Brilliant Moon is narrated by two well-known figures of American popular culture, the actor Richard Gere and the singer Lou Reed.  Both Gere and Reed embraced Tibetan Buddhism years ago, and Gere, in particular, has been a frequent visitor of the Dalai Lama and a public advocate of Tibetan independence.  However, despite the potential pop-culture fanfare opportunities of having Gere (cf., for example, Chicago, 2002) and Reed (the lead singer of The Velvet Underground, cf. “Walk on the Wild Side”, 1970) onboard, their participation is not hyped in this film, and their names only appear modestly in the credits.

Brilliant Moon’s account of the life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is presented more or less linearly in ten named chapters.  In the early phases of his life, for which there is basically no historical photographic evidence, Chokling presents things vividly by using animated images.  This works well and confers a fabular feeling to the presentation that befits the legendary lama.

1. The Son
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was born in 1910 in Denhok Valley in the Kham region of Eastern Tibet.  As a young boy, he suffered a serious injury by stumbling into a cauldron of boiling soup and was bedridden and depressed for months.  At this point the melancholy boy decided to enter the monastic life, and his health gradually improved. 

2.  The Monk
At the age of 14, he went to study at the Shechen monastery, one of the six principal monasteries of the Nyingma school of Himalayan Buddhism.  There he came under the tutelage of Shechen Gyaltsaab Rinpoche, a famous lama who passed onto him many sacred teachings before Gyaltsaab passed away 2 years later. 

3.  The Hermit
Then at the age of 15, Dilgo Khyentse entered into a long meditation retreat, hiding away alone in caves in Eastern Tibet for the next thirteen years and constantly meditating and carrying out ritual practices.

4.  The Yogi
At 28 Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche came out of his meditation hermitage and more directly under the tutelage of his spiritual lama master, Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.  Though Dilgo Khyentse wanted to continue his life in solitary meditation, Khyentse Chokyi Lodro urged the young man to go out into the world and spread the teachings he had learned to others.  So Dilgo Khyentse began traveling about Tibet and spreading his spiritual message. 

However, the gradual takeover of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China beginning in 1950, which led to the 1959 Tibetan uprising, caused severe disturbances in Tibetan life.  So in 1959, like the Dalai Lama had done earlier in the same year, Dilgo Khyentse had to flee Tibet.  After a long and dangerous trip, he found refuge in Bhutan.

5.  The Refugee
As a refugee, Dilgo Khyentse was welcomed by the king and royal family of Bhutan.  Dilgo Khyentse had two daughters, the younger of whom died while studying in India during this period.  His older daughter gave birth in 1967 to a son, Shechen Rabjam, who is the producer of this film.

6.  The Teacher
Over the years, Dilgo Khyentse had over sixty masters from the four main schools of Himalayan Buddhism give him instruction on the sacred teachings.  As a result, he adopted a nonsectarian perspective that, through his own teachings, helped to unify the Himalayan Buddhist community.  He then went on to spread these teachings across the wide region and gave instruction to many existing and future masters.  For example, the Dalai Lama regarded Dilgo Khyentse as his principal teacher of the Nyingma tradition and of the Dzogchen tradition.  And in 1980 he founded the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal.

7.  Return Home
In 1985 with the ruling Chinese authorities having relaxed their restrictions on visiting Tibet, Dilgo Khyentse was able to return to his homeland.  There he continued his work on restoring devastated monasteries.

8.  Completion
Finally, after Dudjom Rinpoche’s death in 1987, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche became the head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism.  But even as an old man, he tirelessly continued his holy work until his death in 1991.  By that time his writings had amounted to more than 10,000 pages.  He was also involved in the preservation and publication of more then 300 volumes of sacred Buddhist texts.

9.  The Yangsi
After Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s death and following Himalayan Buddhist tradition, there was a search for his religiously certified reincarnation.  In due course a young boy born in 1993 was identified as such and given the name Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche.

10.  The West

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche first traveled to Europe and the US in the 1970s, and he made some more trips thereafter.  These visits helped spread his holy teachings to a Western audience.


Overall, Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is a well-crafted work, with the excellent mixture of smoothly-edited archival material that is combined with the aforementioned atmospheric animation work covering the master’s early years. I also liked the music composed by Joel Diamond.  But I particularly liked the inclusion on the soundtrack of Mia Doi Todd’s moody song “River of Life/The Yes Song”.  Those are tones that resonate in my memory whenever I think of this fine film.
★★★½

Notes:
  1. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is effectively the head of another of the four schools – the Gelug school.
  2. Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, “The Neten Chokling incarnation line”, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, (1983). 
  3. “Neten Chokling”, Wikipedia, (10 March 2018).  
  4. “Neten Chokling Rinpoche”, The Rigpa Shedra Wiki, (28 March 2018).    
  5. The nine linked chapters of The Life of Milarepa can be found on Youtube here:
  6. Alyson Shontell, “A 69-year-old monk who scientists call the 'world's happiest man' says the secret to being happy takes just 15 minutes per day”, Business Insider Australia (25 December 2016).   
  7. Robert Chalmers, “Matthieu Ricard: Meet Mr Happy”, The Independent, (18 February 2007).       
  8. Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill,  Little, Brown and Company, (2007).

Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy

Films of Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy:

Kireet Khurana

Films of Kireet Khurana:

“Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi” - Kireet Khurana and Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy (2016)

Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi (2016) is a documentary film about an esteemed writer and director of arthouse films in India, Saeed Akhtar Mirza.  The film, directed by Kireet Khurana and Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy and based on a conceptualization by Khurana, appears to be an  attempt to explore Mirza’s artistic and philosophical underpinnings that have inspired his thoughtful cinematic themes. 

Mirza’s career flourished from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, and it featured a number of somewhat offbeat films that were hits with both the critics and the public.  Although I referred to him as an arthouse filmmaker, this was merely to distinguish his work from the Bollywood entertainment industry, placing him instead in the category of “serious” filmmakers sometimes referred to in India as “Parallel Cinema” [1].  His films were not overly intellectual, and indeed many of them had a visceral quality to them.  Among the hit films that Mirza made (co-wrote and directed) in his heyday are:
  • Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978)
  • Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai (Why Does Albert Pinto Get Angry?, 1980) 
  • Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1984)
  • Nukkad (Street Corner, TV series, 1986) 
  • Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (Don't Cry over the Lame Salim's Death, 1989)
  • Naseem (The Morning Breeze, 1995)
Most of these films show a man who has been made wrathful by a corrupted social milieu that is stacked against him.  As such, these films angrily serve to expose social injustices prevailing in Indian society and so supposedly may help to qualify Mirza as a leftist.  However, the degree to which the present film under discussion, Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi, actually reveals Mirza to be both a leftist and a Sufi is something that needs to be considered further.

The film Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi is made up of three basic interleaved components:
  1. A set of extended monologues of Saeed Mirza talking about his past experiences and his thoughts about Indian society and life in general.
     
  2. A set of testimonials from some of Mirza’s professional colleagues and contemporaries,  including Saeed’s own younger brother Aziz Mirza, who is also a film director but who, unlike Saeed, makes films more along the lines of mainstream Bollywood musical comedies.
     
  3. A set of montage-like snippet collections from Saeed Mirza’s feature films.  These are presumably intended to give a flavor of his work.
These three components are supposed to contribute to our understanding of Saeed Mirza and the degrees to which he is a leftist and a Sufi.  But two of those components are not effective in this regard.

Component #2, the collection of testimonials, is devoted mostly to people testifying to what a good guy Saeed Mirza is.  But they don’t tell us much about Mirza or provide interesting personal anecdotes describing how he thinks or operates.  They just tell us that he is good.

And component #3, the collection of film snippets, doesn’t provide enough information for this situation, either.  First of all, although the film is in spoken English, the snippets are from Hindi language films and are not provided with English-language subtitling.  Apparently the makers of this film were assuming that all their viewers would be bilingual in Hindi and English.  Moreover, the individual snippets shown in the film are so short that they collectively fail to provide a narrative feel of the films from which they are drawn, even for those viewers who are bilingual.  For example, there is a shot of a one-man demolition of a building that is taken from the film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!  But it is not evident from just seeing this clip alone that this is a culminating event for Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!s narrative.  So these clips shown here are likely only to serve as reminders to those who have already seen those original films. And in general they don’t contribute to our understanding of the narrative themes that underlay Saeed Mirza’s films.

So this leaves us only with component #1, Saeed Mirza’s extended commentary addressed directly to the camera, to hopefully provide the substance and insights we are looking for.  And here we do find material of interest.  Mirza comes across in these bits as a reflective person, as he recounts his thoughts about his past and about Indian society. He reminisces about his time spent studying at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).  And in general, he reveals himself to be not so much a clear-cut leftist, in my view, but more like a universal humanist – someone who embraces an inclusive and progressive view of humanity and human rights.  Thus he was disturbed by the rise of fanatic communalism in India in the 1980s [2].  In particular, the destruction of the 16th-century Babri Masjid at Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics in 1992, which was a key thematic element in Mirza’s 1995 film Naseem, was so depressing for Mirza that it induced him to take an extended leave from filmmaking.

More recently Mirza has successfully turned to writing, where his prose has been praised by his colleagues, and it has been characterized by them as an imaginative blend of fiction and autobiography that blurs the boundaries between the two [3,4].

Interesting as some of this Mirza commentary is, though, the film as a whole suffers from some further deficiencies in connection with its production values.  Basically, apart from the not-very-helpful film clippings, we have a film mostly of talking heads.  And there is no real dialogue; these are individual heads talking straight to the camera.  In addition, many of these talking-head shots are sloppily conducted with a shaky hand-held camera, which is distracting to the viewer.  Moreover, there are also issues with the soundtrack.  When Mirza is shown out on the street, there is often so much ambient noise that it is hard to hear what he is saying.  And in other parts of the film, the sound dubbing is not synced very well.

Thus overall, the film Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi gave me sparse information about a very interesting Indian filmmaker; but it was only in small fragments, and it left me wanting more than what this film could give me.
★★ 

Notes:
  1. “Parallel cinema”, Wikipedia, (22 July 2018).   
  2. ‘Communalism’ is a word that has many interpretations around the world.  Here I am using it in the way it is usually understood in South Asia.
  3. Saeed Mirza, Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother, (2008).
  4. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Memory In The Age of Amnesia: A personal history of our times, Westland Publications Limited, (2018).

“The Golden Fortress” - Satyajit Ray (1974)

As I have mentioned previously, Satyajit Ray was not only a great filmmaker and musical composer, he was also a prolific author of popular fiction [1].  A particular genre interest of Ray’s along this line of creative work was detective fiction, and he published 17 novels and 18 additional stories featuring his canny private investigator Feluda, who served for Ray as his Sherlock Holmes.

One might have expected that this interest of Ray‘s in detective fiction would have overlapped with and spilled over into his cinematic work, but it seems that perhaps the intellectual machinations of detective stories didn’t match particularly well with Ray’s characteristically poignant cinematic expression.  Over his career Ray only made three detective movies – The Zoo (Chiriyakhana, 1967), The Golden Fortress (Sonar Kella, 1974), and Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God (Joi Baba Felunath, 1979) – the latter two of which were based on his Feluda novels.  Nevertheless, these three films were all hits with the public, particularly The Golden Fortress [2].

The story of The Golden Fortress concerns events surrounding a young boy’s memories, or dreams, of a past life when he supposedly lived in a golden fortress.  In particular the boy’s vivid memories of seeing many jewels there inspire some criminals to kidnap him in hopes that he will lead them to a lost treasure.  Ray has fashioned this tale as something of a family-oriented adventure, using typecast characters, comedic elements, and some exotic backgrounds to liven up the proceedings.  In addition Ray colored things further by employing some motifs to stimulate the viewer’s fancy:
  • Travel 
    There are many journeys shown, with a number of means of conveyance – taxis, trains, even camels.  Trains, in particular, have always held a fascination for Ray, and perhaps this is the case for most people of his generation: trains were a means for introducing novelty into traditional Indian life, and they symbolized change and excitement.
     
  • Clocks 
    There are numerous images of clocks, and references to time; so time, including travel time, seems to be a subtheme in the story.
     
  • Identity 
    Several characters take on false identities, and it is often the case that people are not who they appear to be to other characters.  So mistaken identity is a common occurrence throughout the tale.
The film’s storyline moves through four stages.

1.  Mukul’s dreams 
The film begins in Calcutta (Kolkata), where six-year-old Mukul Dhar (played by Kusal Chakravarty) upsets his parents with his bizarre behavior at night.  He gets up in the middle of  the night and obsessively draws pictures of peacocks and foreign settings, which he claims he remembers from his past life. Mukul’s father takes him and his drawings to a parapsychologist, Dr. Hemanga Hajra (Sailen Mukherjee), who notices that Mukul’s drawings of fortresses look like some of those in Rajasthan, in western India. Hajra suggests that he take Mukul there to see if he can jog the boy’s memory and work out what all these visions mean.  The boy agrees, but as luck would have it, a journalist was present for this consultation session, and so Mukul’s bizarre story, including his claim to remember his past-life home having many jewels stored there, is reported as a curiosity piece in the city newspaper. 

The newspaper article attracts the attention of the two villains of this story, Amiyanath Burman (Ajoy Banerjee) and Mandar Bose (Kamu Mukherjee), who decide to kidnap Mukul and see if he can lead them to the purported real treasure hidden somewhere.  Ray ensures that the viewer is aware of the shadiness of these two scoundrels by averting the camera from showing their faces in the early scenes in which they appear.  The first thing these bumblers do is kidnap the wrong Mukul, when they snatch a kid who happens to have the same name and who is an acquaintance of our Mukul.  Before drugging and turning loose their mistakenly held captive, they do manage to extract from him some important information – that our Mukul has already left Calcutta with Dr. Hajra and is headed for Jodhpur in Rajasthan. 

When our Mukul’s father learns about the other Mukul being abducted, he fears for his own son’s safety and engages private detective Pradosh Mitra (Soumitra Chatterjee), known as Feluda, to go out to Rajasthan and protect his boy from the predators.  What will impress the viewer about Feluda in this film is not so much his powers of ratiocination, but more his keen observation and memory of seemingly insignificant details.

So now we have three groups of figures all making the 1400-mile train trip from Calcutta to Rajasthan:
  • Mukul, the boy with the fantasies about a golden fortress, along with Dr. Hajra, the parapsychologist;
     
  • Burman and Bose, the two crooks looking for a treasure trove of jewels;
     
  • Feluda, who is accompanied by his young cousin and assistant Topshe (Siddartha Chatterjee).
2.  Travel to Rajasthan  
The film now moves into the always fascinating train-travel mode.  Burman and Bose are surprised to discover that Mukul is on the same train with them. So they opportunistically assume false identities and make friends with Mukul and Hajra.  When they get to Jaipur in Rajasthan, they start touring around a local fortress, and when noone is looking, they push Hajra off a high cliff, presumably killing him.  (However, we later see that Hajra, though badly injured, does survive the fall.)  Then when Mukul shows up, they fool the boy into believing that they have magic powers and that they have made that Dr. Hajra disappear and that Burman has now taken on Dr. Hajra’s identity.

Meanwhile Feluda and Topshe, on a following train to Rajasthan, are joined in their train compartment by a jocular and naive novelist known as Jatayu (Santosh Dutta).  Jatayu teams up with Feluda and Topshe, but his presence in this story only serves to provide comic relief.

3.  Travel to Jodhpur 
Once they all, including the badly injured Dr. Hajra, arrive separately in Jodhpur, there are further misrepresentations of identity.  Hajra, fearing that he is still a murder target, is masquerading as a Rajasthani peasant.  Feluda, never having met Hajra, is fooled into believing that Burman is the parapsychologist.  There are further shenanigans, including Bose’s failed attempt to murder Feluda with a poisonous scorpion.  Finally Burman hypnotizes Mukul and manages to learn from the boy that the real fortress they should be looking for is further west of Jodhpur, in the city of Jaisalmer.  So he quickly heads off with Mukul in that direction.

4.  The Golden Fortress at Jaisalmer  
Meanwhile Feluda, Topshe, and Jatayu are looking over the fort in Jodhpur.  Eventually, however, the hyper-observant Feluda figures out that Burman and Bose are not who they claim to be.  In addition Feluda, despite getting what the viewer knows is misleading information from Bose, intuitively guesses that Burman and Mukul have headed off for Jaisalmer.

This sets the stage for a mad race to the Jaisalmer fortress on the separate parts of (1) Burman and Mukul, (2) Bose, (3) Hajra, and (4) Feluda, with circumstances arising that variously entail travel by car, by train, and by camel riding.  There are more unexpected encounters and violent events along the way, which create a mounting tension and sense of expectation on the part of the viewer.  And eventually the principal figures do come together for a final confrontation in the fortress.  In the end you will find out about the nature of the hidden jewels and see that, in keeping with the requirements of family-oriented entertainment, things come to a satisfactory resolution.


Throughout The Golden Fortress Ray adeptly maintains the three parallel narrative threads involving Hajra, the two villains, and Feluda’s team.  This effectively maintains a dynamic pace to the film and holds the viewer’s attention.  However, the subtlety of character depiction and development characteristic of Ray’s greatest films is missing in The Golden Fortress, particularly in connection with the exaggerated histrionics associated with the villainous Burman and Bose characters.  And one wonders if the film might have benefited from the inclusion of a significant female character or two in the story (there are none). Nevertheless, Ray does display an impressive expressive facility with a genre, detective fiction, that is distinct from his usual fare. So the film is likely to have considerable appeal to young people and others who like wholesome adventure stories of that ilk.
★★

Notes:
  1. The Film Sufi, “‘The Zoo’ - Satyajit Ray (1967)”, The Film Sufi, (3 May 2018).   
  2. Arup K Chatterjee, “Satyajit Ray's Sonar Kella: The train to a golden fortress that wasn't”, daily O, (19 May 2017).   

“The Trial” - Orson Welles (1962)

Franz Kafka’s haunting novel The Trial (1925) is justly famous, but its enigmatic nature left it open to multiple interpretations and presented challenges to any filmmaker wishing to adapt it to the screen. It was left up to an intrepid filmmaker like Orson Welles to take on the challenge with his 1962 film of Kafka’s tale.  Welles had had early commercial success with films like Citizen Kane (1941)  and The Stranger (1946), but he was subsequently more or less banished from Hollywood and was at this point working in Europe under constrained budgets.  For example in connection with this film production, Welles, who usually strove for an expressionistic atmosphere, was not given the finances to construct his own sets and was forced to look for existing premises in which to shoot his dramatic scenes.  He ultimately found locations and settings appropriate for his film in Paris, Milan, Zagreb, and Rome.  For example, he  shot much of the film in the abandoned Parisian train station (now a museum) Gare d’Orsay. Nevertheless and despite these limitations, he came up with a masterwork [1].

Kafka’s story of The Trial was actually written during 1914-15 and, like most of his work, was never fully completed during his lifetime.  His friend Max Brod edited and finished off the manuscript for posthumous publication in 1925.  And Welles then did some of his own reediting by reordering some of the chapters when he wrote his screenplay for the film.

The story of The Trial concerns a young man, Joseph K., who is awakened early one morning and told by the intruding plainclothes police officers that he has been accused of a serious crime.  But K is not informed of what he has been accused, nor is he immediately incarcerated.  He is merely told that he must report to government offices to face the so-far unstated charges. The rest of the story concerns K’s frustrating and ultimately in-vain efforts to find out just what he has been accused of so that he can make efforts to clear himself of the charges.  As such the story has been considered to be an example of absurdist fiction and existentialist narrative, as well as offering a metaphor for man’s obsession with guilt [2,3].

Besides these more personal and individualistic themes, though, many commentators also attribute themes associated with more exterior, social issues to Kafka’s story.  In particular, the depiction of an obscure and oppressive bureaucracy that intrudes into every corner of one’s personal life seems to anticipate for many people the 20th-century horrors of Stalinism, Naziism, and the Holocaust. In fact in this connection, Welles’s, himself, was once under FBI investigation [4].  Even today, there is a pervasive sense of uneasiness concerning how vast and inscrutable organizations may mysteriously use hidden surveillance technologies to invade our privacy and exert control over our lives.

So we may attribute two separate streams of interpretation to The Trial – the existential and the social.  In Welles’s film there is a particular focus on the existential side of things, though at the film’s conclusion there is imagery that invokes horrors on the social side, as well.

Welles said he did not make his film “based on” on Kafka ‘s book, but, rather, “inspired by” Kafka’s work [5].  In particular, Welles altered the character of Joseph K. somewhat, making him more assertive than Kafka’s character, and he also introduced elements of what might be said to be black comedy into his film.  Despite these alterations, though, I would say that Welles’s The Trial very much captures the anxious spirit of Kafka’s work.

Welles achieved these moody effects by means of his characteristic expressionistic mise en scene, which he admitted was inspired by his viewing of the works of early German Expressionistic filmmakers [6].  This involved high-contrast black-and-white photography, as well as many extreme high- and low-angle shots that present the story’s principals from a psychologically disturbing perspective.

The Trial’s narrative meanders through three general phases.

1.  Guilt
In the beginning the focus is on the disturbing and encompassing nature of guilt.  In the opening sequence Joseph K. (played by Anthony Perkins, who had recently starred in another noirish masterpiece Psycho (1960)) is shown (in a carefully crafted tracking shot of 3:40 duration) being awakened in his room at 6am by plainclothesmen.  Even though he doesn’t know what he has been charged with, K acts guiltily.  Later he talks to another boarder in his rooming house, Marika Burstner (Jeanne Moreau), and again their conversation is clouded by concerns of guilt – on this occasion in connection with their tentative romantic relationship.  Then K is shown in his vast, desks-in-a-row office where he is made to feel guilty by insinuations made by his boss when K’s teenage cousin stops by for a visit.  These and other similar scenes all highlight that our lives are infused with guilt.

Indeed our social institutions, particularly our religions, are dominated by notions of guilt.  Humans are called upon to take responsibility for their actions that have negative outcomes, and the principal mechanism to place a behavior-modifying burden on people for these unwanted actions is guilt.  In addition, humans are presumably the only animals that know that death is inevitable for everyone.  But we don’t know why we are faced with this punishment.  So our institutions tend to proclaim that we all must be intrinsically guilty for this situation – we are all guilty at birth.  But why?  This is the question the underlies Joseph K.’s situation in The Trial, and its understanding points to the idea that guilt is a man-made construction [3].

2.  The Law and Its Execution
The second phase of the film shifts the main focus from personal guilt to an immersion into a vast and unknowably labyrinthine legal system – the instrument for adjudicating and punishing guilt.  While attending an opera, K is interrupted and escorted to an obscure courtroom building where a hearing on his case is being conducted in a crowded auditorium.  K ascends to the stand and makes an impassioned speech dismissing the still-unstated charges against him and then walks out of the room.  So K is shown not to be a passive victim but an assertive responder, if only he could figure out where he stands in the legal system.

Later K’s uncle Max takes him to his lawyer friend, the advocate Albert Hastler (Orson Welles).  But K is distracted by Hastler’s beautiful assistant, Leni (Romy Schneider), who tries to seduce K and who also urges K to confess to his guilt.

Subsequently K returns to the courtroom where he had made his speech and is surprised to find it empty.  The only person around is the beautiful wife of the courtroom guard, Hilda (Elsa Martinelli), who also offers herself to him without qualification.

When K later does talk to the advocate Hastler, he soon sees that the advocate is a cynical manipulator and is of no use in connection with K’s legal difficulties.  So K eventually dismisses Hastler, but before he leaves the office, Leni urges him to visit the official court portraitist, Titorelli, who supposedly knows all the ins and outs of the legal system and the people at the top.

On the way to visit Titorelli, K is hounded by a frenetic pack of giggling and laughing young girls who seem to be aggressively after him.  Titorelli’s room turns out be a small, slatted enclosure, through the slats of which the loudly cackling pack of young girls can be seen and heard.  All of this creates a claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere for the conversation between Titorelli that ensues. 
With his insider knowledge Titorelli explains to K that there are three possible types of acquittal:
  • definite acquittal – this is a theoretical designation that nobody knows how to achieve.
  • ostensible acquittal – rearrests for the same charges are inevitable, and one will be involved in an endless cycle of court cases.
  • indefinite deferment – one’s court case will get tied up in a literally endless sequence of proceedings  
K departs from Titorelli’s premises under a cloud and hurries down a surrealistic slatted corridor  with the shrieking girls in pursuit.

3.  Closing In
Commanding voices now direct K through further mazes until he reaches the basement of a cathedral, where a priest emphasizes to him the hopelessness of his situation.  Then Hastler mysteriously shows up, and he tells him about the cryptic and fatalistic “Before the Law” parable that is a metaphor for the eternal mystery of every man’s ultimately doomed fate [7].

Finally, K is grabbed by two rough-looking police guards, who usher K to the outskirts of town and down into a large hole in the ground, where they apparently intend to execute him with a large butcher’s knife.  With K lying submissively on the ground between them, they lean over their victim and hesitantly pass the knife back and forth between them, apparently waiting for K to do the job himself.  In Kafka’s story, K is knifed “like a dog” at this point, but in the film K just laughs derisively at the two men, who then scramble up out of the hole.  Once out on top, they toss a pack of dynamite down into the hole where K is.  K grabs the bomb and throws it, but we immediately see a massive explosion that apparently destroys everything in the vicinity.  The final images are those of the mushroom cloud from the explosion.


That final shot of the mushroom cloud was Welles’s way of reminding us that we live under the cloud of likely nuclear annihilation.  In other words, we face a self-imposed death sentence, the current collective mindfulness of which is much lower today, by the way, than it was back in 1962, even though its danger and likelihood is undiminished from that time.  This is something, like the horrors of the Holocaust, which Kafka also could not have anticipated in his day, but the universality of this deranged death sentence makes it particularly appropriate to connect with Kafka’s tale.

Another interesting subtheme of Kafka’s that appears throughout the film concerns the take on femininity in the story.  Many of the women that K encounters – Marika Burstner, Leni, Hilda, and the pack of young girls – are aggressively seductive and represent lascivious distractions from K’s serious concerns.  In casting Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli for these cameo roles, Welles was presenting some of the most alluring feminine European movie stars to portray this notion of feminine distraction and devotion to sensual physicality.  Their presence in the film is likely to give the viewer a different feeling than what one probably gets from reading Kafka’s story.

So we can say that Welles did inject references to significant social themes in his rendition of The Trial.  But nevertheless and as mentioned above, the principal focus and aesthetic virtue of his film concerns his presentation of Kafka’s existentialist theme.  This was accomplished by means of Welles’s well-developed film noir mise en scene, which he had honed in connection with his earlier works along these noirish lines – The Stranger (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and Touch of Evil (1958).  But The Trial represented the culmination of Welles’s film-noir aesthetics.

We can observe that the film noir is actually the ideal mode for Kafka, because it employs emphatic expressionist techniques to convey paranoia, hopelessness, and fear of incarceration – just what Kafka was talking about [6].  As filmmaker and writer Paul Schrader remarked regarding the aesthetics of film noir [8]:
“The actors and setting are often given equal emphasis. . . . When the environment is given an equal or greater weight than the actor, it, of course, creates a fatalistic, hopeless mood.”
Certainly this is the case in The Trial, where Welles’s expressionistic settings and camera arrangements constantly impose a threatening surroundings on the beleaguered Joseph K.  The positive effects of this moody atmosphere more than compensate for some minor deficiencies in the finished product.  The background music, while often evocative, is sometimes too jazzy and distracting. And the dubbed dialogue (Welles is said to have used his own voice to dub eleven of the characters’ spoken lines [9]) is sometimes unclear and too rushed. But overall, Welles’s The Trial is a masterpiece.  In fact even though Welles’s Citizen Kane has often been ranked as the greatest film of all time [10], Welles, himself, regarded The Trial as his best work [5].  And it truly is worthy of being considered a film classic.
★★★★

Notes:
  1. Roger Ebert, “The Trial”, RogerEbert.com, (25 February 2000).  
  2. Jean-Philippe Deranty, “Existentialist Aesthetics”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (17 February 2015).   
  3. Temenuga Trifonova, “The Trial”, Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 38, Senses of Cinema, (February 2006).    
  4. Cristina Vatulescu, “The Medium on Trial: Orson Welles Takes on Kafka and Cinema”, Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1 (2013).    
  5. Huw Wheldon, "Orson Welles on THE TRIAL", Interviewed on the BBC in 1962, Wellesnet, (1962).   
  6. Jeffrey Adams, “Orson Welles's ‘The Trial:’ Film Noir and the Kafkaesque”, College Literature, Vol. 29, No. 3, Literature and the Visual Arts (Summer, 2002), pp. 140-157.
  7. Franz Kafka, “Before the Law”, (translation by Ian Johnston), Franz Kafka online, (1915).   
  8. Paul Schrader, “notes on film noir”, Film Comment, Vol. 8, No. 1 (SPRING 1972), pp. 8-13.     
  9. “The Trial (1962 film)”, Wikipedia, (30 August 2018).    
  10. “Sight and Sound: Critics’ Top Ten Poll”, Wikipedia, (26 August 2018).