December 13, 2007

Prapancha Pash - A Throw Of Dice

Lets stick with the not so usual Bollywood fare for one more moment and go back to the very early years of the Indian film history. And by very I mean 1929. Late silent film era early.


















Ever since I saw the trailer of Prapancha Pash - A Throw Of Dice sometime last year on one of my DVDs I was hooked. I like Silent movies and this one is a very important one for Indian cinema history. Directed by Franz Osten, a German director that started to work in India as early 1924.

Osten was working as a head director for Emelka Films in Munich, Germany (which would later become Bavaria Films) when the company was approached by Himansu Rai (who later founded Bombay Talkies Ltd), who was looking for co-operation partners who would invest in Indian films.
The first film that was co-produced was "Prem Sanyas", India´s first international co-production. Four years later Osten once again traveled, along with his crew, to India for "Shiraz" and later that year he started to work on "Prapancha Pash". A monumental film, shot on real locations throughout India, with hundreds of elephants, tigers, horses, real jungle sets and thousands of junior artists.









The story of Prapancha Pash is an adaption of the Mahabharata´s game of dice. Two kings, one good - Sohat, one evil - Ranjit.
The evil one is greedy for Sohat´s kingdom and during a royal tiger hunt Sohat is "accidentally" wounded with a poisoned arrow. Plan saphal? Arre nahin! Luckily the "accident" happens close to beautiful Sunita´s house, the daughter of a healer. So he is nurtured back to health and gets the girl on top. Happies endings? Phir nahin. There is still the greedy Ranjit. And unsurprisingly he also falls for beautiful Sunita and driven by jealousy, greed and some other not so nice traits he tries everything to create a rift between the two young lovers.









His most devious plan is set in motion at the eve of Sohat and Sunita´s wedding. He lures the young king who has a dangerous weakness for gambling into a game of dice where he plays foul and Sohat loses everything. His kingdom, his crown, his freedom. And now being reduced to the status of a slave, he even loses Sunita. How mean! Thank god Sohat´s closest servant has a nosy beta. He finds the loaded dice and now we can head straight to the climax.









Even if with a length of only 72min it is a huge film. The cinematography is great. Osten´s use of real locations creates an authentic even realistic feel. The story is well rounded. It just works. Bas.

Btw. the DVD I got has another interesting feature. The movies score is done by Nitin Sawhney. The BFI (British Filminstitute) restored the filmprints in 2006 and Sawhney got to compose a new score for it, that was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. In fact there were a few live performances since 2006 in London (more dates might follow) and now there is a UK DVD and German DVD that also features an interview with Sawhney.









As much as I love Nitin Sawhney, the score is not really a perfect fit for the movie. The power of silent movie scores lies in the parallel storytelling they usually provide. Sawhney claims Ennio Morricone and Bernhard Herrmann (two of the greatest film composers in history) as his musical influences and that is where the problem might be rooted. I feel that his music just accompanies the pictures and that is too little. It did not touch me. Not that the pictures and visual storytelling would not be able to stand on their own. It is just that I would have preferred a little more Max Steiner with his exuberant use of Leitmotif and moodtechnique, Mickeymousing and continuous Underscoring.









But still this is one movie you should not miss. It is a classic. I really do hope that more films of this section of the Indian film heritage will find their way back on the screen.

PS: Satyajit Ray saw Franz Osten as the founder of a Realism School in Indian Film. Osten became a guru to Indian cinema dignitaries like Raj Kapoor, Sasadhar Mukherj or Dilip Kumar until he was incarcerated by the British in 1939 as citizen of an enemy´s country (especially since he had joined the foreign section of the NSDAP in Bombay in 1936) and later was banished from Indian soil.

PPS: Btw. concerning the alleged kissing-on-screen-tabu that should stem from these times. Bakwaas hai. There are two big fat dead-on-the-lips smooches in PP. Hah!
PPPS: Oh, and another thing. Prapancha Pash is perfect for Movie Improv-Karaoke (no distracting dialogues *g*)

5 comments:

Sanni said...

DOES WANT. We want through Indian silent period briefly in my Film History class and I read some anthology of Indian cinema once, too, and I want those damn silent films! There was apparently a Portuguese female action hero in early Indian films..

babasko said...

the only early female action hero i know of is fearless nadia. but she was british, born in australia.

vishal bharadwaj´s (omkara, maqbool) next film "julia" is supposed to be sort of a bio-pic on her. with franka potente (run lola run) as nadia..

Sanni said...

That may be it, actually, I'm not 100% about her heritage. Just remember she wasn't originally Indian.

Beth said...

So interesting! I'll have to keep an eye out.

Is that a parcheesi board? Beautiful!

antarra said...

You know, ages ago (more than a decade ago in fact) I saw this as part of a season of Silent movies shown in the University Courtyard in Bonn. I hadn't even heard of Bollywood at that point. It had live piano music accompanying it and I enjoyed every minute of it. Forgot most of the story in before I rediscovered it this year, but remembered the elephants.