The Holy Man/ Mahapurush (Satyajit Ray, India, 1965)


Gurupada Mitter (Prasad Mukherjee), an elderly advocate who’s mourning his recently deceased wife, meets Brinchi Baba (Charuprakash Ghosh), a holy man, on a train while he’s travelling with his daughter Buchki (Gitali Roy) and falls under his spell.  Brinchi Baba claims to have lived since the beginning of time; he tells of his encounters with Buddah, his dialogues with Plato, his witnessing of the Crucifixion (‘It’s a cruci-fact!) and how he taught Einstein that E=mc2. Buchki also becomes enthralled to the Holy Man; or is she merely pretending to be? The young man she’d been seeing, and who’d been hoping to propose but not quick enough with it, sees his beloved slipping away from him and decides to do something about it.

The Holy Man is a wise and witty film, with all the humour of a vaudeville sketch but with all the wisdom regarding human beings, their foibles and their failures, that Ray is justly celebrated for. Generous and open-hearted, the film is also very satirical and very funny without being cutting or mean. The actors play together beautifully, and to our delight are not above mugging or double-takes.  Charuprakash Ghosh, looking like a big fat baby surprised by middle-age and unable to keep off the sweets, is superb as The Holy Man.

The film feels very sixties. It has, for example, a time-motion display of the relationships between people (how our hero got to meet our heroine) that could have come straight out of any trendy Pop film of the period. Yet, The Holy Man also demonstrates a much greater and more subtle command of the medium than one generally sees, say, in the films of the period by Richard Lester  (Help! A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), whilst being just as much fun. A lovely, funny and wise film.

One in a series of new blu-ray re-releases of Satyajit Ray that are very much worth seeing, some of which I’ve written on: The Big City, The Lonely Wife, The Coward.

José Arroyo

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