The Holy Man (1965)

Like I said, this and the previous film were originally released in India as a double bill, Kapurush-o-Mahapurush, which the DVD translates “Bad Man, Good Man”; put the two films together and you have a similar contrast at work. This one’s a comedy (more of the wry kind than the big laugh-out-loud farce) about a guru who accrues a couple of disciples while travelling on a train. One of them is a young woman about to be married to a young man, Satta, who now suddenly finds he can’t marry her because she’s going into the guru’s priesthood to kind of spite him. So what can a poor boy do except recruit some friends to try and bring down this rather fantastic figure who claims to have been on speaking terms with Plato, Jesus, Buddha, Manu and numerous other luminaries who flourished centuries earlier. All of which is reasonably amusing, and yet on reflection it’s somehow unsatisfying too, cos I get the feeling there was a serious undercurrent to all this but I don’t know that it came off properly. Obviously Birinchi Baba is a fraud, but Ray seems to view him with some degree of respect; he may not be a real holy man, but he is a tremendous actor with a gift for psychology and to manipulate people who don’t know any better with bullshit and gibberish. But what about those people, what’s the film trying to say about them, let alone him? What is it about him in particular that draws so many to him, and why do they feel they need him? I wish the film had felt more inclined to explore that angle. Perhaps in the end that’s where the real contrast lies between this film and The Coward: the latter spent too long doing not much, this one spent not enough time doing too much…

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