The Elephant God (1979)

Our last bit of Satyajit Ray for the moment, and the comparative odd man out among the films in Artificial Eye’s collections of his work. Where the other films are essentially straight dramas (or straightish comedy), this one sees Ray venturing into genre film territory, being a detective story (albeit one that moves at the same sluggish pace that his other films seem to) adapted from his own novel, one of no fewer than 35 stories featuring the detective Feluda. They seem to get classed under children’s literature, the appropriateness of which classification is something I’ll let someone decide who’s actually qualified to do so; as for the film, I’m not sure I’d file it the same way. Story is set in Benares, plot involves the theft of a small statuette of Ganesh, a Ghoshal family heirloom for generations much coveted by local businessman and well-respected citizen Meghraj; Feluda and his cohorts happen to be passing through Benares and are brought in to solve the case. The latter proves more convoluted than it does at first sight; we know Meghraj must be involved in some way, and we may also suspect the enigmatic guru with whom he seems to have some connection, but it’s still fun watching how it all unfolds. Which, as I said, is something that happens very slowly indeed, and that’s the major problem the film has; Ray’s usual languorous tempo doesn’t really suit the material he’s working with. Having said that, though, it’s still quite pleasing to watch; the plot is hardly anything new but the background setting (the lead-up to a big religious festival) gives the story some flavour and it’s nicely acted (even the child actor isn’t annoying), and on the whole though it’s less substantial than some of the other films, it’s a lot more immediately pleasurable.

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