Notable Cast: Joyraj Bhattacharjee, Soumyajit Majumdar
Admittedly my knowledge of Indian cinema as a whole is almost non-existent in the grand scheme of things. I cannot speak to the overall state of Indian movies as a whole, however, I can say out the couple of handfuls that I have watched, both mainstream and more independent in nature, I have never quite seen a work like Ghost of the Golden Grove surface from the region. It's not just refreshing as a film confined within the scope of its own native cinema but a fresh new stroke of paint on the pallet of film, as a whole, making for one of 2019's greatest artistic offerings.
Directors Aniket Dutta and Roshni Sen have paired up to make their directorial debut collectively under the moniker Harun-Al-Rashid, a unified and singular voice that really does reflect their vision as a whole onscreen. A truly accomplished blend of artistic ideals that makes for not only one of the most thought-provoking works of the year but one of the most entertaining too. I don't wish to delve too much into the plot here, as going in blind is very beneficial in the end, but the film follows two separate characters, one during the first half and the other in the remaining time.
The first story follows Promotho, a surveying officer from Kolkata, who is visiting Shonajhuri, which translates from Bengali into English as the 'golden grove', a forest in the region of Bengal, which seems to take on a character of its own, alluring various people within and trapping them, never to escape, succumbing to their own deteriorating mental state.
We see Promotho as he treks the wooded landscapes of the beautiful forest and photographs his surroundings and the inhabitants of the rural area. Like a typical outsider, he sees them as objects and captures them accordingly to his own flat uninspired ideas. Again, without spoiling, things take a turn for the weird and he is greeted by a mysterious masked figure, which leads to some very interesting places narratively and the accompanying scenes that follow will surely sear themselves into the mind of the viewers.
In the latter half of the film, incomes Bibhuti, a recently fired cook who is traveling aimlessly, with the sole purpose of seeking new employment. Upon cooling down near a small body of water, an estranged elderly man appears and offers him a stay at his house. Desperate to find some sort of fulfillment, Bibhuti agrees and follows the man to Shonajhuri, where he resides in a large mansion and is pleasantly surprised and grateful when he is offered a job as his own personal chef and residency within the home.
One day, the elderly man unexpectedly packs his bags and leaves the house to the young chef. Shocked but pleasantly surprised, Bibhuti finds himself living a life of luxury and contentment, before slowly the house seems to start speaking to him and once more things go into unexpected territories and crafts yet again a truly unique story that embellishes great entrainment and a sharp stab at the state of cinema and art as a whole in the current moviegoing economy of the world.
In terms of the film's technical craft, everything is lovingly put together. The stark black and white cinematography calls to mind the works of Lav Diaz and in general harkens back to the films of yesteryear, which makes sense as the film takes place in the 60s and in fact in dialogue name drops Seijun Suzuki, Kaneto Shindo, and Hiroshi Teshigahara, as these filmmakers play great influence in not only the presentation and mentality of the experience but showcase the feeling of the world at the time and in turn reflect modernity.
I went into Ghost of the Golden Groves without knowing what I was getting myself into, but I can confidently say that this is one of the finest works of the year so far and desperately needs a wide audience. In the great hopes that it is seen by as many moviegoers as possible, I do hope this film destroys the festival circuit and keeping my fingers crossed for distribution somewhere in the world. Sure to be one of the sleeper gems of the year.
Written by Josh Parmer