MASTER filmmaker Satyajit Ray's latest work, "The Home and the World," moves at a stately pace, or a laborious one, depending on taste. Set in East Bengal in 1908, 15 years prior to the class conflicts of "A Passage to India," it sees colonialism through upper-caste Indian eyes. The British Empire is represented here by a nanny, not the Raj.
Based on a novel by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, it features Victor Banerjee as a westernized maharajah who forces his wife into the arms of a college friend. The maharajah, a quietly miserable, mannered man, cannot believe she loves him unless she has a chance to meet other men (by custom she hasn't been out of the palace in 10 years). He pries her from purdah, but pays dearly for this liberation.
The maharanee, played provocatively by Swatilekha Chatterjee, becomes the proteg,e and lover of a nationalist politician, not realizing until too late that he is really an ambitious fiend. Soumitra Chatterjee plays the oily radical who seduces the woman and the local rowdies to his cause. Meantime his moderate host, the eloquent Banerjee, contemplates his crisis of home and world.
This historical melodrama mostly takes place in the sumptuous cloister of the metamorphosing maharanee. It is an intensely claustrophobic, quiet film in which the relationships are drawn beautifully and patiently. The truths are universal, if slow in coming. "My husband says the less one knows you, the more one likes you," says the young woman in leaving her lover. But her awareness is too late to do anyone much good.
"The Home and the World" offers stagey beauty and thoughts that provoke. But if you are not a Ray fan, it may not quite be your cup of Darjeeling.
THE HOME AND THE WORLD (Unrated) -- In Indian with English subtitles at the KB Foundry, Janus.