Review: ‘The Broken Journey’

"The Broken Journey" was skedded as scenarist Satyajit Ray's next directorial project when the veteran Indian helmer became ill and died in early 1992. After a delay, his son Sandip resumed production. Finished project is a middling narrative on par with elder Ray's later, lesser but respectable works; how far the family name's residual arthouse clout will carry it abroad is uncertain.

“The Broken Journey” was skedded as scenarist Satyajit Ray’s next directorial project when the veteran Indian helmer became ill and died in early 1992. After a delay, his son Sandip resumed production. Finished project is a middling narrative on par with elder Ray’s later, lesser but respectable works; how far the family name’s residual arthouse clout will carry it abroad is uncertain.

Heavy-handed opening scenes introduce Calcutta general practitioner Dr. Nihar Sengupta (Soumitra Chatterji) as a jaded urbanite out of touch with basic values. He sloughs off wife’s worries that their college-age daughter may be involved in drugs; his patients are a wealthy, spoiled lot. But the doc leaves these cares behind to present a paper on last 20 years’ med-research progress at a Rotary Club meeting seven hours’ drive away.

En route, his car has a flat near a remote village. While his chauffeur replaces the tire, doc is distracted by moans nearby. He discovers a gravely ill man who’s been exposed to the elements for two days, developing probable pneumonia.

Sengupta impatiently turns the man over to villagers, then suffers conscience pangs and returns soon after — rescuing said peasant from local witch doctor’s harsh “exorcism” ceremony. But when Sengupta rushes back to the remote locale once again the next morning, his guilt-induced renewal of the Hippocratic Oath has come too late.

Implicit critique of urban values is haltingly advanced, and the doctor’s final, symbolic gesture doesn’t carry full weight intended. (Some story sidelines, like his daughter’s alleged drug use and the village girl’s harassment by unwanted suitor, likewise feel underdeveloped.) Still, both script and helmer Sandip Ray’s work gain strength once film settles on peasant’s life-or-death struggle as crux for Sengupta’s own moral reawakening.

Performances are solid, though somewhat cramped by script’s lack of nuance. While lensing and other tech factors are undistinguished, they improve whenever action sticks to village setting.

Musing on morality and medical ethics make pic an intriguing footnote to Satyajit Ray’s career. But even in the helmer’s own hands, this modestly engrossing but semi-realized “Broken Journey” would probably not have rated among his major achievements.

The Broken Journey

Indian

Production

A CEG Worldwide presentation of a National Film Development Corp. of India/Doordarshan production. Produced, directed by Sandip Ray. Screenplay, story by Satyajit Ray.

Crew

Camera (color), Barun Raha; editor, Dulal Dutt; music, Sandip Ray; production design, Ashoke Bose; sound, Sujit Sarkar; assistant directors, Ramesh Sen, Subroto Lahiri, Ramen Chatterji. Reviewed at the AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, May 4, 1994. (In S.F. Intl. Film Festival). Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Dr. Sengupta - Soumitra Chatterji
Jatin Kundu - Sadhu Meher
Manashi - Subhalakshmi Munshi
Haladhar - Debotosh Ghosh
With: Bina, Minakshi Goswami, Masood Akhtar, Pallavi Roy, Bimal Deb, Subhendu Chatterji, Lily Chakraborty, Soven Lahiri, Ashish Mukherji.
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