Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) lives in Calcutta with her parents, two brothers and her sister. She goes to college and works as a tutor on the side, and has a steady boyfriend, who she plans to one day marry, leave the family home and make a life for herself. However, literally everyone she has ever met or had any contact with is a complete and utter shit of a human being.When I asked Chip and Steve to suggest to me some movies from the 1001 List that they would class as not being worth watching, the results I received seemed to have various reasons attached to them. I know I’ve got some films ahead of me with little to no production value. Others are simply a waste of time, pretentious nonsense or comedies devoid of humour. The Cloud-Capped Star, it seems, has been recommended because it is so unrelentingly depressing that recommending it to someone would be akin to assisted suicide, as it was a struggle to get through whilst retaining a desire to carry on living. I’m going to save anyone the hassle of scrolling to the end: this is a defiant Choose Life, and I’d so adamantly not recommend it that I’m going to spoil the whole thing, just like this movie spoiled my day.
In Neeta’s family, she is the only person who is not only good, but doesn’t make me want to hold a pillow over them until they almost stop struggling, then pull the pillow away and put them in the decompression chamber from Licence to Kill. Her father (Bijon Bhattacharya) works as a teacher, but doesn’t earn a great deal, and even less so when he suffers a mild injury, from which he is too frail to recover and becomes a burden. He at least understands the responsibility and unfairness he is putting onto his daughter’s shoulders when she becomes the household’s sole earner, although he refrains from doing anything about it. So maybe just the pillow for him. Neeta’s mother (Gita Dey), on the other hand, needs some kind of prolonged decompression chamber with the inside lined with spikes, and walls that slowly close in on her. She, along with Neeta’s sister Geeta (Gita Ghatak), are just despicable. Neeta is all but engaged to Sanat (Niranjan Ray), a physics student with aspirations of greatness, yet the girls’ mother doesn’t want Neeta to get married, because then she would leave the house and take away its only source of income and the only person with any kind of common sense and ability to run it. She’d much rather focus on Geeta getting engaged, despite her being the younger sister. Geeta knows very well that she is attractive, and enjoys Sanat gawking at her whenever she is nearby, so has no qualms about poaching the guy from her sister, and eventually getting married to him, all whilst continually going to Neeta for handouts that have no intention of being repaid. Finally, the brothers. The girls’ older brother Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) wants to be a famous singer, and believes he will one day sell out giant stadiums, but for now spends his days wandering around and singing to himself. Neeta is the only person with any faith in him, so she happily funds his lifestyle, including an obsession with getting a shave every few hours. The youngest brother is Mantu (Dwiju Bhawal). He also attends college, or rather doesn’t, because he gets kicked out for not showing up. However, he gets a manual labour job in a factory, and actually has some money coming in to help out his sister. That is until he decides he doesn’t want to have to travel to work and doesn’t like Neeta’s cooking – she is also the only one to actually take care of the house – so he leaves to pay rent at the accommodation provided by his employment, and from then on only contributes whatever money he has left. His mother has no problem with this, or any of the other children’s happiness other than Neeta’s. Then, when Mantu is in a work-related accident and is hospitalised, it is up to Neeta to foot the bill. Her former partner and now her sister’s fiancé Sanat pays some of the money, which infuriates Geeta, despite it being for her own fucking brother’s hospital bill. And then to cap it all off, Neeta contracts tuberculosis, and is evicted by her family to live the rest of her life essentially banished from the home, with her room being turned into the nursery for Geeta and Sanat’s baby. Fuck this movie.
This whole thing is an exercise in depression. There’s not even a case of redemption or justice at the end. It’s a case of life’s a bitch, and then you get T.B. Had Geeta’s final moments seen her stroll into the family home with a basket full of grenades, I’d at least have felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing everyone burn, even if she had to sacrifice herself for it. Some things are worth dying for, like ridding the planet of that family. Granted, the performances are for the most part decent, and all evoke the feelings presumably intended, particularly the mother. She discovers that Mantu has solved the problem of being kicked out of college by getting a job without telling her, and is overly offended that literally anything could happen under her roof without being run past her first, then flat out refuses to even touch the money he has earned and is proffering to contribute to the budget. She is also more than willing to force her eldest daughter into a kind of familial slavery for the rest of her life, as though that was the entire plan when she birthed her.
Plot and characters aside, I found Shankar’s constant singing to be irritating, and indeed I’ve discovered that our puppy is not a fan of Indian music, because he yapped at the screen whenever it started up again, which was often. Also, I understand that a lot of Indian films tend to focus heavily on music (I admit, it’s an area of world cinema I’m not overly familiar with yet) but I still found the decision to include a 5 minute duet between Neeta and Shankar to be both odd and drowsiness-inducing, lullaby-esque as it was.
This is one of those films that I can only image is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list to ensure that the viewer has experienced utter sorrow before passing away (couple it with something like Airplane! to give yourself a case of the emotional bends). However, if you do insist on making your way through the list, be sure to save this one until last, in case it all gets to much for you and you decide to end it all without having seen all the movies.
Choose Life 2/10