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Indian Film Festival: Teen Kanya


The Postmaster, one of the stories in Teen Kanya (Ray Family Collection)

"Not to have seen the cinema of [Satyajit] Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." Okay, when Akira Kurosawa says that about a filmmaker's work, you better take notice. India's Satyajit Ray is one of the world's finest filmmakers and this month, the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) and the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) partner to present a pair of Ray's films as part of their Indian Film Festival. The festival runs in conjunction with Rhythms of India at SDMA and Humanitas: Images of India by Fredric Roberts at MoPA. The festival kicked off this past Saturday with Goldspirit's presentation of Jodhaa Akbar , a recent Bollywood hit. Now the series looks back to a classic from India's past, Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya (screening 7:00 pm May 6 at MoPA). The feature is actually a trilogy of films based on stories by Rabindranath Tagore, and the film was made to mark the author's birth centenary in 1961. Ray also made a documentary on Tagore that same year. The trilogy consists of The Postmaster (56 minutes), Monihara ( The Lost Jewels , 59 minutes), and Samapti ( The Conclusion , 56 minutes), with the female characters providing a link between stories.

Teen Kanya (which translates, I've been told, as "three girls" as opposed to the English title of "three daughters") was released almost 47 years ago to the day; it opened in India on May 5, 1961. When the film was initially released in the U.S., it was called Two Daughters because one chapter, Monihara , was left out from the international print probably because of concerns about a near three hour running time and because subtitles were supposedly not yet ready for Monihara . The print screening at MoPA is the New Yorker Films version called Two Daughters and only contains the chapters The Postmaster and Samapti.

The Postmaster focuses on a pre-adolescent girl named Ratan and Nandalal, a young man from Calcutta who becomes the postmaster of her small village. One day, Nandalal begins teaching Ratan to read and write. A seemingly tender bond develops as Ratan takes eagerly to her lessons. But as the story ends, we find that the two characters are not on the same page. And Samapti looks to a son who, after passing his exams in Calcutta, has returned to his village to visit his widowed mother who has marriage plans for him. All three films showcase Ray's simple but highly effective storytelling and his ability to find tenderness and emotion without melodrama. Each story stands on its own, and both are wonderful examples of Ray's exquisite skill.

Teen Kanya (in Bengali with English subtitles) screens at 7:00 p.m. at MoPA's Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theater. Tickets: $7 members, $8 students, and $10 nonmembers (includes admission to both museums through Sunday, June 1, 2008). I will be there to introduce the film so I hope you will join me for this great Ray film.

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