Distant Thunder (1973)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Rural Drama, Social Problem Film  |   Release Date - Jun 1, 1973 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - India   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Vick

Satyajit Ray's first color film is also his fiercest social statement. The 1942-1943 Bengal famine was not a natural disaster but a man-made one. Food was available, but Bengal's poor couldn't afford it and the government did nothing to help. Ray's outrage at this unfortunate episode in India's history is evident in every frame of Distant Thunder. In the beginning of the film, the village where it is set looks like a pastoral idyll, with lush forests, a beautiful lake, and happy, contented townspeople living in harmony with one another and their environment. As the famine takes hold, however, and life becomes a struggle for survival, the better and worse natures of all the characters begin to emerge. Soumitra Chatterjee's Gangacharan, the moral center of the film, has to fight with his more selfish instincts to finally do the right thing. For all the devastation it portrays, Distant Thunder is finally motivated by a belief that people will help one another in times of adversity. This hope is crystallized in a moment, late in the film, when Gangacharan, an upper-caste Brahmin, takes the hand of a dying woman of the untouchable caste -- a powerful image in an India that was still extremely caste-conscious at the time the film was made. Ironically, this vision of deprivation is by far Ray's most beautiful color film. Where his later films suffer from flat studio lighting, Distant Thunder is awash in gorgeous natural light and revels in the varied beauty of a natural world threatened by human destructiveness and greed.