DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

BRANCHES OF THE TREE (SHAKHA PROSHAKHA) (director/writer: Satyajit Ray; screenwriter: from the story by Satyajit Ray; cinematographer: Barun Raha; editor:  Dulal Dutta; music:  Satyajit Ray; cast: Haradhan Banerjee (Probodh), Ajit Bannerjee (Ananda Majumdar), Soumitra Chattopadhyay (Prasahnto), Depankar De (Probir), Mamata Shankar (Tapati), Ranjit Mullick (Protap); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gérard Depardieu / Daniel Toscan du Plantier; Reliance; 1990-India/France/UK-in Bengali with English subtitles)

"The penultimate film of Satyajit Ray."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The penultimate film of Satyajit Ray ("Charulata"/"Devi"/"The Stranger") is a sincere but somewhat sluggish family drama that's filmed almost entirely in a single room. It explores in great depth the relationship of the dying wealthy patriarch with his four sons. The acting is overwrought and it seems more fit for the theater than the cinema, but its life observations are keen.

It's set in Anandapur Majumdar, a Bengali small town, renamed in 1980 after the story's central character Ananda Majumdar (Ajit Bannerjee). He's the eminent citizen, whose wife died in 1970, leaving him with four sons to raise. While honored at a town banquet reception in 1990, on his 70th birthday, for his business success as general manager of Orient Mica Works and because of his peerless reputation for hard work and his steadfast honesty, he has a heart attack. The bed-ridden Ananda is treated at his mansion home by the esteemed cardiologist Dr. Shah and his assistant Amardeep, who resides there in an adjourning room. His mentally challenged son Prasahnto (Soumitra Chattopadhyay), once considered his most brilliant son, who suffered brain damage when he was in a motor car accident while in school in London, and has since then lived at home along with his senile 93-year-old grandfather. Loved by his disappointed dad, his son cares only about classical music and otherwise is depressed and can't articulate his feelings. The patriarch's other three middle-aged sons, Probodh (Haradhan Banerjee), Probir (Depankar De) and Protap (Ranjit Mullick), all seemingly successful businessmen, are estranged from him and live some distance away with their families.

The three sons feel inconvenienced, but come from Calcutta to visit with their wives and the patriarch's 5-year-old grand-child to stay with their dad in his time of need. Brought together in the house they were raised in brings back repressed memories and we learn how disturbed each of them is inside despite on the outside putting on happy airs. The moralistic theme played out is how the three children were unable to live by their father's rigid old-fashioned code of honor in the more corrupt modern times and were confused by their weaknesses to resist temptation and make money illegally or to act self-righteous and quit the business world to act in the theater.

The drama, a poignant examination of family relationships, confronts the problems of India's new generation of middle class to live an honorable life in changing times, who seem unable to fully face their own human foibles and show little compassion for the incapacitated challenged son, the only one who can't be corrupted, and the mentally fragile elderly grandfather.

REVIEWED ON 3/14/2014       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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