Bhuvan Shome (1969)

As zany a film you can find in Indian Parallel Cinema, Sen’s work about an uncompassionate city bureaucrat who goes on a perspective-changing hunting trip is highly-expressive in form and film language. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,353

Dir. Mrinal Sen
1969 | India | Drama | 92 mins | 1.37:1 | Hindi, Bengali & Gujarati
Not rated – likely to be PG

Cast: Utpal Dutt, Suhasini Mulay, Shekhar Chatterjee
Plot: A lonely bureaucrat goes on holiday to a Gujarat village where a young peasant woman helps him see beyond his job and develop a newfound empathy for people.
Awards: Won Best Feature Film, Best Direction & Best Actor (National Film Awards India)
Distributor: Piyali Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Changing Outlook
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

While Bhuvan Shome takes a while to get into gear as far as its narrative is concerned, one can’t help but notice from the onset that its film language works like a hammer to nail—it is bluntly obvious but effective in what it does. 

Bhuvan Shome comes across as one of Mrinal Sen’s most highly-expressive pictures that I’ve seen so far in terms of form, editing and the use of the camera. 

This is Sen in French New Wave mode; he is perhaps even more uninhibited here than in some of, say, Godard’s most radical works. 

In one extended segment with a bull pulling a cart as a city bureaucrat (the titular Mr Shome as played excellently by Utpal Dutt) is ferried across the rural regions to a bird-hunting ground, Sen uses in a few scenes the loud, chugging sound of a hurtling locomotive to convey the relenting force of modernity on traditional ways, perhaps even of class difference. 

“If I don’t tickle the bulls, they won’t go fast.”

The poor peasants rely as much on their two legs to survive as the bull does with four, while Mr Shome, a railway operator has industrialisation to thank for giving him the quality of life the villagers could only dream of. 

As an uncompassionate man, Mr Shome’s hunting trip becomes a perspective-changing one after he meets a young village woman who offers him refuge—and even tips on how to hunt ‘properly’. 

Sen is as interested in his lead’s life-altering character arc as he is in pushing the creative boundaries of filmmaking—there’s even animation thrown in. 

As zany a film you can find in Indian Parallel Cinema, Bhuvan Shome is thought to be a breakthrough work from Sen in his earlier phase of filmmaking.  As he becomes even more political in his next phase, you can already see him using the language of film without restrain in this one. 

Grade: B+



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