Meant to mention a movie I watched on Maori television last weekend: Schatten die Zeit, or Shadows of Time. I thought it was going to be one of those romantic movies with a hopeful ending, but it turned out to be a film in which the choices taken in a matter of seconds affect the rest of a character’s life. Consequently it was full of sadness, because people were forever just missing the moment. For all that, it was wonderfully directed and shot, had a superb Indian cast (it’s set in Calcutta, apart from the earliest scenes), and was full of poignant images.
The two main characters are played by six actors in all: two youngsters in their early to mid-teens; two adult actors who get most of the screen time, and two elderly actors who appear in the bookends of the story. Thus the cast list looks like this:
Ravi: Sikandar Agarwal/Prashant Narayanan/Soumitra Chatterjee and Masha: Tumpa Das/Tannishtha Chatterjee/Sova Sen.
The two youngsters are particularly good, and their ‘love’ story is handled with great sensitivity and care.
The world surrounding them is venal to the core – this isn’t a pretty India in any sense, and nearly everyone is out to make an extra buck or sell someone for a few more rupees. Consequently even the integrity of Ravi as a boy eventually becomes soured in adulthood, even though he holds out for virtually half the film. Masha is less able to maintain her integrity: after being sold by her father for a pittance (he proves her strength in a kind of employment screening by slapping her hard across the face) she escapes from becoming yet another in a long line of girls taken by a slimy character who appears every so often. Then she flees to Calcutta only to be turned, almost immediately, into a child prostitute. And while she survives in this life, and eventually becomes the wife of a wealthy official, she hardly has a good time of it: towards the end of the movie she’s back where she started, amongst the prostitutes (now with a small boy). We don’t know much about her subsequent fate, except that in the last scenes she’s still alive as a grandmother, looking considerably older than Ravi as an older man, even though he’s the same age.
It’s one of those gloomy European movies (it was made by Germans) that has this idea that fate will grind you down, come what may. In a scene in which the two lovers finally manage to get together, Ravi says that he wants Masha to remember that this was the time when he was happiest. He says this with the saddest possible look on his face.