Satyajit Ray was the Kurosawa of India. He chose to diverge from traditional Indian filmmaking of musicals and bright colors in order to favor small stories about the everyday Indian, usually told in black and white. When I reviewed Mahanager for this blog was intrigued by his understated point of view and his strong female characterization. I promised myself that I would dive deeper into his oeuvre from that point forward. It is strange however that I decided to start with the Stranger, a departure for him stylistically and the last film he filmed before he succumbed to his sickness and died.
The story is simple. A housewife receives a strange letter from a man claiming to be her uncle. This uncle disappeared a long time ago and wasn’t heard from during that time. He asks her to come visit his last living relative (herself) and stay for a week. The husband refuses but she is curious to know if this man is for real, so she invites him into her house anyway. He immediately commands the room and it seems to have a certain charm that can only have come from extensive traveling. The family warms to the man slowly, but begin to suspect that he is here to claim an inheritance that was left him. They question him about a couple of different things, but he does not reveal his secrets easily, preferring to dangle them with the possibility that he might be an impostor.
This movie is more than just the surface story. It is about the conversations that this man has with his niece, her child, her husband and their friends. He comes into a relatively empty yet docile domestic situation and injects an intellectual slant to it. He questions about whether or not they are very far removed from the native people that he made his life’s work. Is the fact that they have a nice couch and several rooms really make them anymore intellectually superior to the group that dances and chants for rain?
This is a quiet little movie that reveals much about how much we doubt the truth even when it is staring us in the face. I really enjoyed listening to this wisened old man talk about his travels and his experiences more than anything else. I actually felt that this uncle was a doppelganger for the director himself talking about his life.