Indian CInema
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NEEM ANNAPURNA / BITTER MORSEL (Dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1979, India)

bitter morsel

Before Buddhadev Dasgupta became a filmmaker he was a university teacher, lecturing on economics. His association with the Calcutta Film Society in the 1960s led to Dasgupta recognising the function cinema could play as an agent of wider social agitation and potential change. Neem Annapurna was one of first films he directed. In fact, it is the only film I have seen of his to date, and the semi neorealist approach not only evokes the work of Satyajit Ray but also great Bengali auteurs like Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. The film sees a family come to the city of Calcutta from the village, a familiar enough narrative set up for a Hindi melodrama, with the dream of making a better life for themselves. However, they are confronted with stark realities of social and economic deprivation, leading to one of the bleakest depictions of poverty ever put on film. That’s no exaggeration. Shot in a raw documentary style and dispensing altogether with plot, Dasgupta is attentive to the psychological experiences of the family, articulating their suffering in an honestly, unsentimental style. The father spends his days travelling through the city looking for what work while at home his wife and two daughters wait on his arrival with the promise of food. Waiting becomes a focal point of the slender narrative situation, and Dasgupta trains his eye on the unbearable hunger that sluggishly devours the family, capturing their misery through key sequences of real horror such as the mother’s troubling decision to steal rice from someone in a worse situation. One could quite easily position Neem Annapurna alongside Indian neorealist films like Do Bigha Zamin and Pather Panchali.

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