Director: Nitin Bose; Writer: Nitin Bose, Nripendrakrishna Chatterjee, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay; Producer: New Theatres; Cinematographer: Nitin Bose; Editor: Subodh Mitra; Cast: Asitbaran, Sunanda Banerjee, Dilip Bose, Harimohan Bose, Nalini Chatterjee, Sailen Choudhury, Biren Das, Bharati Devi, Manorama, Amar Mullick, Radharani, Utpal Sen, Budhadeb, Latika Mallick, Bijli, Tulsi Chakraborty
Duration: 01:32:47; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 60.916; Saturation: 0.017; Lightness: 0.215; Volume: 0.151; Cuts per Minute: 4.009; Words per Minute: 91.037
Summary: One of the surviving socials from New Theatres based on Saratchandra Chattopadhyay's novel, Kashinath is a melodrama about the titular character and a promise made to a childhood friend that brings about immense upheaval in his personal life. Orphaned at an early age, Kashinath is adopted by a benevolent zamindar Pitambar Chakraborty who gets the boy married to his only heir and wishes to make them his sole heirs. However, a promise made to his childhood friend Bindu, takes him away from this life for some time, resulting in mistrust, misunderstandings and even separation. Much like Chattopadhyay's novel, the film posits certain archetypal characters who represent certain ideals, just like Kashinath's adherence of the ideals of his deceased father. At the same time, the film is also a journey of the protagonist with family playing a crucial factor in that. Over and above all, the film is more important because of its context. A celebration of family and the ideals that guide a rightful man, the film ironically released in 1943, the year of the Great Bengal Famine.
Release date: 2 April, 1943 (Chitra)
The literary idiom that set New Theatres apart in its initial years was also one of the things that has come up major critique subsequently. In this context, 'Kashinath' is important not because of the film per se but because of the time of its release, the 1943 Bengal famine. Interestingly, a huge hit for the studio that year had been 'Wapas', a romantic comedy against the backdrop of war which in strange unsettling ways had managed to mimic the terrifying social conditions for the middle class in the cities, many of whom had not really been affaceted by the famine at all. Kashinath, a dramatic social and a literary adaptation, unintentionally lays bare the literariness in all its emptiness. Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, an extremely popular novelist of the nineteenth century had previously been adapted by New Theatres too, especially because of his use of archetypal characters and moral codes that tended to become synonymous with the Bengali bhadralok class.
The film begins with a unique tableau where all the principle characters are sitting and the resolution of conflict has already happened. With family being a central motif of Chattopadhyay's novellas, where larger issues are examined in the context of the family and its journey, the film begins with what one identifies as the conventional 'happy ending'. The narrative then goes into a long flashback, begining with Kashinath remembering his childhood, with only intermittent references to this tableau as they relive their ordeals in retrospect. The fact that the family is shown intact even after ordeal right at the outset is an interesting way of navigating melodrama especially in a pre-War context.
Another central feature of Saratchandra's oeuvre is the journey of the protagonist/hero. Kashinath is a sprightly boy who is nonetheless quite close to his father, the village priest. The priest's character is established right at the outset as upright and honest with the kirtan he is singing literally about the merit of leading a truthful life. The suggestion that he might be gravely ill is thus central to Kashinath's journey because the scene then begins to resemble a last life-lesson before the boy is left on his own.
The image of the tilted pitcher with the water running out will be a continuing metaphor in the next scenes.
Continuing with the motif of the final life-lesson, the father asks to be left alone to recover while Kashinath is instructed to go and perform the daily rituals at the local zamindar's house. The fact that the scene cuts immediately to the tilted pitcher as Kashinath leaves works as an obvious metaphor for the priest running out of time. As soon as the water stops dripping, it becomes clear that the priest has passed away too.
The local zamindar, played by the iconic Tulsi Chakraborty, is an extremely kind and benevolent man. The interaction between the docile zamindar and his dominating wife is a minor subplot in this section of the narrative and is played mostly for comedic purposes.
Kashinath has promised his father that he will not steal fruit and such things ever again and will not create trouble. This humourous little scene underlines the impact of such a promise especially on a little boy like him.
Kashinath and Bindu's relationship is one of the central themes of the narrative and also the source of its central conflict. The scene deftly establishes the premise of this childhood friendship while at the same time suggesting that this relationship has no romantic moorings, especially when Kashinath refers to Bindu's impending marriage.
Kashinath is woefully underprepared to take on his father's role as the priest. Thus, despite being a funny scene, what renders it extremely ironic is the fact that the viewer is aware that the father is dead and that Kashinath will be on his own very soon.
This, coupled with the fact that Kashinath is still thinking about the fruits his father had forbidden him to touch, serves to heighten the tragedy.
The image of the local brahmin school teacher brings with it a certain set of stereotypes that are as literary as they are sociological. The indolent, spiteful, susceptible to flattery, rotund, greedy, brahmin educator, who needs to be appeased with gifts of food and such things, is both a comic trope and perhaps a veiled comment on the educational system prevalent in villages. Thus, when someone fails to bring a suitable offering, punishment and education make an appearance, one a supplement to the other. Kashinath and Bindu's assault on his fruit-laden trees then seeks to play to these character traits of the spiteful brahmin hoarder. What needs to be further pointed out is that at a time like the 43 Famine, such an image would also perpetuate a certain idea of the village and a certain sense of plentitude and continuity that could hardly be definitive of the time itself.
Kashinath, cheekily enough, has taken advantage of a loophole in the promise made to his father - he cannot eat the fruits but he can definitely pick them for Bindu.
The scene where the master and the students surround the duo is a perfectly executed sequence, especially at a time when fight choreography would be an anachronistic expression. The rapid cuts and the mid-long shots serve to heighten the effect.
Expectedly, the brahmin comes to the local landlord to lodge a complaint. The latter, already seen as a kind and meek man,
is again beaten to the decision by his wife who delivers an ultimatum - that Kashinath is spoiling her daughter and hence the two cannot meet before her wedding.
Kashinath, unaware of his father's death, is celebrating his triumph over the pandit. That he bites into the fruit and then spits it out to honour the promise made to his father is important: it serves to heighten the tragedy and at the same time underline the fact that his father's teachings have probably not gone to waste as everyone seems to accuse him of.
The tragedy of Kashinath's discovery of his father's demise is further augmented by the fact that he seems to think his antics at the pandit's gardens have something to do with the event.
What further foregrounds the tragedy is Bindu's desperate attempts to get to her friend and comsole him, only to be stopped by her stern mother.
The scene cuts to Bindu's wedding. It is revealed that Kashinath, bereft with grief, has shut himself out from the world. While a section of the village is unmoved by his grief and seem to think of this as a sign of pride or arrogance, this attitude is contrasted with the kind zamindar's who has already made arrangements for Kashinath's future.
The kirtan sung by the father at the start plays in the background as Kashinath prepares to leave. Now more than ever, the song has taken on immense implications in his life, being one of the last things his father had told him. This is foregrounded by the fact that he, in a deeply symbolic gesture, picks up his father's copy of the Ramayan- both taking on his mantle and his ideals.
The conversation Kashinath has with Bindu will be crucial in many ways. This will be their last conversation in a long time till they meet again many years later. Besides, the promise he makes to her that he will come if she ever calls him is crucial to the central conflict of the narrative. The bullock cart driver calls out for him intermittently, constantly interrupting their conversation. As an agent of change, someone who will take Kashinath away from the comfort of his home and his sense of familiarity, the figure of the driver underlines the enormity of their separation.
Brahmin priests those days would have wealthy families who would be their patrons, sometimes on a hereditary basis. The fact that Pitambar Chakraborty has readily provided shelter to the orphan Kashinath is thus not very surprising. However, what sets it apart is the sheer benevolence of the landlord in his dealings with the boy, especially when the letter is unsure of his status in this new home.
However, one must also acknowledge that the zamindar has another motive for brining Kashinath here. Fond of his only daughter, he obviously wishes to find her a husband who would be good and who would not take his daughter away from him. The orphan boy, obviously, presents the perfect solution.
The old aunt is shown having planted a tree in the name of the gods, with the wish that the flowers of the tree would be symbolic of the happiness in the household. This will becomes a major symbolic trope later on. Here her comment that wild birds can never be kept confined at home take on further significance. With Kashinath now part of the household, the happiness she has wished for will come to be inextricably linked with the same person she expresses skepticism about.
The very next scene highlights this tension as we see Kashinath releasing the bird kept in the cage - a sort of portentious playing out of the aunt's apprehensions. He sets out too and there is a suggestion that he means to escape as well. This is foregrouned by Kamala's reactions, first on seeing him leave, and second, on seeing the empty bird cage.
Kashinath's disappearance creates a furore in the house, starting from indulgent assumptions that he might have gone out to explore, to worry over his well-being. This is accompanied by parallel cuts of Kashinath walking away and one gets the impression that rather than running away the boy's primary impulse had been to get away from the reality of his changed circumstances, to some semblance of the life he had known before.
The metaphor of the untameable wild bird is continued as Kamala sings a song looking at the empty cage and thinking about Kashinath. It is obvious Kamala has grown quite attached to the boy in such a short time. At the same time, parallel shots of Kashinath singing about the joys of the open air and a carefree life underline his feeling of being uncomfortable in his new surroundings.
A series of rapid shots make up this sequence to match the dramatic nature of the scene. Kashinath is found and the news spreads; the zamindar is elated at first and then sternly orders that the boy be brought before him. Shots of marching feet of the guards as the much smaller Kashinath is escorted to him heighten the sense of dread but that is dissipated immediately as the zamindar fails to live up to his anger. As it had been suggested in the earlier scene, the zamindar has grown quite fond of the boy. Kashinath, for his part, had always known rejection in his earlier village except from his father. Thus, when he realises the fact that the zamindar has grown to love him, his shock is the perfect foil for the man's inability to scold him.
This incident prompts the zamindar to hasten Kashinath and Kamala's marriage, ending the first act.
Thus, to signal the second act, the narrative shifts back to the tableau the film had begun with as the flashback now moves to the events twelve years later.
The second act opens with Kashinath, now grown up, having assumed responsibilty of Pitambar Chakraborty's lands and estate. He is shown to be a conscientious young man, idealistic and kind.
Kamala's voice, relating her version of the events now, is heard for the first time in a voice-over though it is a strangely jarring interruption and not a device that is constantly used. However, her voice-over introduces a crucial plot-element that will guide much of the action of this act: the fate of Pitambar Chakraborty's property. The property, as it is revealed, is to be divided equally among Kashinath and Kamala, though Kamala reveals that she wants no part in this.
Kamala's casual admission that property is the source of most problems for people anticipates the events that are about to transpire.
Kashinath and Kamala have grown up together through the years they have been married, and the ease and playfulness of such a long relationship shows in their marital life. This scene and the song, where Kamala playfully accuses him of being a menace to her life, foregrounds this fact.
The letter that immediately arrives disrupts the romantic moment between husband and wife both literally and figuratively, especially because it brings some news that results in Kashinath leaving for Calcutta immediately. Since we also learn later that the letter had come from Bindu, the arrival of the letter almost symbolises the arrival of some unforeseen complication for them. Though it bothers Kamala, her trust in her husband prevents her from reading the letter.
Kamala's obvious worry is increased by Kashinath asking for a 1000 rupees from the manager for the trip.
As anticipated, Bindu's letter creates a stir in the household, especially because Kashinath had insisted that Kamala assume it was he who was in trouble. Since no one in the family had heard of Bindu till then, Pitambar's final anxious question regarding who Bindubasini is gestures toward that sense of gathering discord.
Kashinath has arrived at the address on the letter only to find Bindu gone. At the same time, the fact that Bindu had left her new address for him to come and find, gestures to the fact that her faith in his promise remains as strong as ever despite the separation of all these years.
Bindu has clearly fallen on hard times. At the same time, there is a strange parallel between her and Kashinath's relationships with their respective spouses. Like him, Bindu too has grown up with her husband and the ease in their understanding of each other is evident here as they attempt to come to terms with their difficult financial situation together. As Bindu tries to pretend to have a fast because there is not enough food, her husband suggests they share whatever they have managed to find.
Kashinath's arrival at such a juncture is almost messianic for them as is evident from Bindu's reaction. At the same time, her husband's warm reception of Kashinath foregrounds what we have already discussed in the previous scene.
Kashinath is fully aware of their financial state and it is also possible he may have heard what they had been discussing - which explains how he repeats their conversation about food with them almost word for word. On must again stress on the messianic figure he represents for them in their time of need, especially given the fact that it becomes quite evident that Bindu's husband is probably suffering from tuberculosis.
Much like the earlier two instances, moments of upheaval in the narrative are marked by the return of Kamala's voice-over and the consequent reminder that the whole narrative is in flash-back. Here, especially, when Kamala's admits that rumours had made her think of the worst things about Kashinath and Bindu, the voice-over narration serves to both propel the narrative forward while constantly serving as a reminder of the eventual happy resolution that the film had established right at the outset.
As a consequence of the rumours, aspersions have been cast on Kashinath's character which results in Pitambar writing him out of the will and giving everything to Kamala. That Pitambar dies at this juncture, serves to further strengthen the accusations against Kashinath and widen the rift between him and Kamala.
Kashinath, unaware of what has happened, has manged to cure Bindu's husband with his care and assistance and solve their troubles.
Bindu's song is both a jubilant declaration and an expression of gratitude. At the same time, Kashinath looks in on their joy, curiously through the windows, almost as an outsider - with his work over he has no place in their household even as he is unaware that his own family too has turned against him.
The letter has obviously brought bad news about Pitambar's illness. His parting words that he is rich now are deeply ironic since he is unaware that he has been written out of the will.
Kashinath is also unaware of the suspicions in Kamala's mind. That she is a bit evasive here, thus, is not something he seems to notice.
The manager of the estate is the only person who seems to still trust Kashinath, evident from the way he expresses his regret about the will. The latter is obviously hurt, but immediately recovers and accepts the decision.
The manager from Calcutta is a figure who is meant to be a source of discord. This becomes quite evident from how the room is shown in a series of snapshots to mark the changes that have taken place. In fact, all the changes - be it the furniture, the safe, the calendar that has replaced the image of the gods, the painting of a semi-nude woman that has replaced the master's photo - seem to point towards an invasive event that is going to unsettle the order of the family. The new manager himself, dressed in western clothes, anglicised name and talking in a faux accent, corroborates this assumption. He is an invasive force, symbolising the corrupting and destructive influences of western modernity, and that neither him nor Kashinath take to each other is thus also quite obvious.
Kashinath, however, does not seem to have taken the presence of the manager Mr. Dutt as any sort of a threat.
Interestingly, most of Kashinath's thoughts are directed at himself in this short scene - a sign that he has also been affected by the changes he sees around him, especially what he perceives to be his wife's changed attitude towards him. However, just like her in the earlier scene he says nothing out loud to her.
At a time when he feels rejected much like when he was a child it is obvious he will write to Bindu. That he writes a similar letter to her husband underlines how he has grown fond of the young man. At the same time, his vague references to the changes in the family highlight his sorrow and resignation and explains his attempts to recapture his lost childhood through the village school he has opened especially with the estrangement from his wife.
A year has passed since Pitambar's death and Kashinath has immersed himself in his village school.
Kamala too has been equally affected by the estrangement from Kashinath, though she cannot comprehend why he has been distant from her. It is implied that the suspicions about Kashinath and Bindu have not died down which explains Kamala's attempt to attract her husband's attention.
The manager's interruption. though unintentional here, is symptomtic of his presence in the house.
Scenes of prepaparation for the kirtan are intercut with Kashinath sitting alone and reading the Ramayan to mark the year of Pitambar's passing.
Kamala enters hoping to entice her husband. However, his refusal, seems to her as rejection, leading her to lose her composure.
Immediately, the next shot is of the four of them from the first scene, informing the viewer of the consequences of that night. Kamala becomes gravely ill and is nursed back to health by Kashinath.
Kamala's suspicions have led her to believe that she has lost Kashinath for good, even though he assures her otherwise.
Mr. Dutta's arrives immediately after. He is boastful and quite obviously uses flattery to get his ways.
in fact, the manager has assumed a somewhat anatagonistic role in the last act of the narrative. He takes advanatge of Kashinath and Kamala's estrangement and insults Kashinath, refusing to give him money.
Kamala, perhaps having come to the decision that it is the property that is coming between her and her husband has decided to write everything over to him.
However, the tension and suspicion that already exists between them comes to a head. Kamala, assuming that he wants the money for Bindu, becomes angry and insults him and refuses to give in to his request.
Kamala had once anticipated that property comes between people and she wants no part in that. This scene, where she angrily admits that the whole property belongs to her, is an ironic reminder of their changed circumstances.
Kashinath, desperate and angry, decides to take the money in exchange of an expensive ring Pitambar had given him.
However, the manager Mr. Dutta, takes advantage of the moment and attempts to implicate the old manager for theft. It is quite clear, when he asks about Bindu, that his real target is Kashinath, the only personal who can potentially threaten his job.
This becomes clearer in the next scene when he comes to Kamala to talk about Bindu, hoping to further estrange her from Kashinath. It is quite clear that he tells Kamala that Bindu is perhaps Kashinath's mistress.
Her suspicions seemingly confirmed, Kamala further alienates Kashinath.
Kashinath, unable to talk to Kamala anymore, has taken to confiding in Bindu and her husband.
Confirming Kashinath's suspicion in the letters about imminent danger, the very next scene shows that the manager has begun to overturn even the decisions that Kamala's father himself had made - like, attempting to wrest control of the land that had been given as gift to the pandit for the village school.
Kashinath, unable to do anything about it, and worried about the effects of these on Kamala, attempts to do what he thinks is right by siding with the old brahmin.
Kamala quite evidently has begun to believe in whatever the manager tells her, something the man uses to his advantage quite often.
Kashinath feels hopeful when Kamala calls for him. However, Kamala, completely under the sway of her own beliefs and the manager's instigations repeatedly insults him even threatening to throw him out of the house.
Hurt and insulted, Kashinath decides to leave the house.
Bindu and her husband, worried over Kashinath's last letter, had arrived there. They leave too, with the old priest taking them with him, leaving Kamala almost alone.
Kamala, having realized the extent of her mistakes, wishes to bring Kashinath back.
The tree has been an important symbol from the first act. It was planted the day Kashinath first arrived there and the old aunt had always worshipped it as a symbol of happiness and plantitude in the house. With Kamala having realized her mistake, she comes and pray in front of the tree, seemingly having returned to the fold.
The court case lodged by the manager in order to take back the land that had been gifted to the brahmin priest. For Kashinath, following the truth has been a way of life ever since the first scene when we had seen him learn the same from his father. His testimony against his wife, as he mentions, is as much about preserving the truth as it is about preventing her from breaking a promise.
Just as Kamala had desperately prayed in the earlier scene, she loses the case and the land is restored to the brahmin priest.
Presumably Kashinath is going to meet Kamala to meet amends. However, the entire mise-en-scene in indicative of looming danger - the scene is shot mostly in light and shadow, and the stormy weather only augments the sense of doom generated by the quick shot of a shadowy figure hiding and watching Kashinath. In a climactic final shot, the figure emerges from behind an unaware Kashinath and strikes him, presumably put up to this by the manager.
The first shot is of the police, delineating the seriousness of the offense. Kashinath admission that he knows about his attacker and then his immediate denial suggests that he might possibly be thinking that Kamala is behind the assault.
Delirious from the fever, Kashinath mistakes Bindu for Kamala and admits his suspicions to her, demanding that she tell him that she was not behind the attack.
Bindu's arrival at the house immediately resolves every complication that had been there with Kamala instantly realising her mistakes.
With the central conflict resolved, the manager's role as the disruptive figure in the narrative also comes to an immediate end.
Their reunion, already established by the narrative, is thus not drawn out.
The tree is seen again, finally laden with flowers, symbolising the return of plentitude and order in the family just as the aunt had wished for. The songs everyone sings immediately after is thus about spring and new beginnings. Bindu's presence with Kashinath and Kamala in the scene underlines her inclusion in the family, with all misunderstandings having been cleared. The final shot of the scene holds the three together in one frame and then pans to the tree, reaffirming their bond and the resolution.
The voice-over of the old manager begins immediately and then cuts to the opening scene, signalling the end of the flash-back and the narrative having taken a full circular turn. Mr. Dutta's sudden inclusion in this familiar scene completes the sense of closure. He has always been associated with the evil influences of western modernity and thus his changed appearance suggests a rejection of that modernity and a return to the traditional.